Don’t let more women get hurt – gender hate speech on social media

In today’s social media and internet age, freedom of expression is an important right for us, but it also carries the risk of abuse. The presence of hate speech and aggressive speech not only hurts an individual’s feeling, but can also have serious consequences and lead to violence.

First of all, we need to define what ‘hate speech’ is. In general, hate speech refers to remarks that attack, insult, or incite hatred against a specific group according to different characteristics like gender, religion, sexual orientation or race (Chetty and Alathur, 2018). Social media violence and hate speech come in various forms, including attacks, abusive language, blackmail, intimidation, and malicious comments. These not only violate the social media platform’s regulations but also damage the victims’ emotions and dignity and even threaten their lives. Victims can be individuals, organizations, or organizations, and their physical and mental health is seriously threatened, which has a negative impact on society as a whole (Flew, 2021).

With the development of digital platforms and social media, online hate speech has been identified as a significant and growing concern. According to a 2017 Pew Research Center report in the United States, 41% of Internet users said that they have received online abuse, and 18% of them are in serious situations including physical threats, persistent mental attack, sexual harassment, or tracking (Duggan, 2017). Many studies have shown that women are more likely to be victims of online attacks worldwide, and gender hate functions online are intended to monitor gender boundaries and strengthen online cohesion of men (Backe et al. ,2018). Another study shows that compare to male, female are 27 times more likely to face online harassment or hate speech, and only one in four women would report it to the relevant authorities. While nearly 90 per cent would limit their online activities after being attacked, thus exacerbating the digital divide. There are some estimates that women’s exclusion from the digital world has reduced the gross domestic product (gdp) of low – and middle-income countries by $1 trillion over the past decade. Hate speech against women and girls is considered as a global problem. Therefore, in this article, we will look at women and Gendered Hate Speech (Watson, 2024).

Gender hate speech

This is an expression based on gender. Women and girls always become the victims of such hate speech. Because of their gender identity, there is intentional violence against women and girls worldwide. This is called sexist hate speech and is a form of social shaming which brings fear and insecurity to women in society. Easy access to Internet, rapid advances in information and communication technologies, and the widespread use of social networks have made it easier to describe gender hate speech against female. These advances are used as tools to harm women and girls.

The cases of gender hate speech are shocking

In 2019, the death of a famous South Korean female star caused a huge stir. Choi Seol-ri (former member of a K-pop girl band and famous Korean actress ) left the world at the age of 25 because she could not bear the long-term of gender hate speech. Her death is a tragedy that reflects the serious impact online violence and hate speech can have on an individual’s mental health.

She received a lot of criticism and abuse on the Internet for her unique behaviors. For example, she has bravely spoken out on women’s rights, tried to achieve women’s freedom to dress (for example, going out without underwear) and publicly supported the newly revised South Korean abortion law. This has led to a lot of abuse and attacks on the Internet. Many people on Twitter, Instagram and other social platforms attacked her as an indecent woman, slutty and lewd. They said that the photos she posted online contain some sexual innuendo and so on.

According to Choi’s friends, she had been extremely upset and depressed by the online attacks, and although she tried to deal with the criticism through legal means, she could not get rid of the negative feelings and chose to commit suicide. Although other complicating factors may have contributed to her death as well, the emotional impact of online hate speech is believed to be the main reason for her suicide (Park and Kim, 2021).

Choi Seol-ri (former member of a K-pop girl band and famous Korean actress )

This is not the only case. Back in late 2013, UK government announced that they would replace Darwin’s face with a woman’s face on its currency, which was frowned upon by many men. Advocates of the change have received a lot of hate speech on online platforms, including name-calling, rape threats and death threats. Other women have received similar hateful comments after expressing support for her. Same year, facebook also triggered protests because of a large number of posts involving female sexual violence and insulting women. It can be seen that female gender hate speeches is not a minority.

Why women become victims of hate speech?

I. Sociocultural factors

In traditional culture background, female presents an image of weakness and they are considered as more vulnerable than male. Therefore, women are more likely to be victims of hate speech and online abuse. Haters thought female will not fight back. This has led to gender inequality in society, and it is more evident through online world. When women express their opinions and views on the Internet, they are easier to receive hate speeches and online abuse, therefore women are more cautious and avoid expressing their voices on the Internet. This will cause silence for female rights and break the balance of the whole society, not only under the online environment.

II. Anonymity and lack of regulation of online platforms

Many people are more likely to be offensive and attack others by hate speech just because of the anonymity of the internet. In real life, many of them do not dare to make such offensive actions to humiliate women, because they know they will be punished. However, they thought that no one will find out who they are and punish them on the internet and they do not need to take any responsibilities for their hate speech. Also the regulatory mechanism is weak for online platforms, and the lack of regulation also makes it easier for attackers to escape punishment. Therefore, anonymity and the lack of regulation makes women more likely to be targeted by attackers.

III. Gender colouration on the Internet

Gender colouration on the Internet has also led to women becoming victims of hate speech. Women are often treated as objects related to gender and appearance, rather than as separate individuals online. This colouration makes women more vulnerable to be attacked. Simultaneously, some websites and social media often promote messages and advertisements with sexual violence content, which can also influence the occurrence of online abuse and hate speech. Women are more susceptible to genderization on the Internet and are therefore more likely to be victims of cyberbullying.

IV.. Inadequacy of Coping Strategies

Most women totally do not know how to respond to hate speech because there are no effective formal procedures, mechanisms and coping strategies to deal with hate speech. Most women feel unprotected and find it difficult to speak out because they believe no one can help them. Most women choose to be silent and suffer the pain in silence. This is also why women are more likely to receive hate speech.

Online platforms in action?

Online platforms have a clear advantage in the governance of hate speech and online abuse. For one thing, platforms, in their role as information intermediaries, have a stronger sense of dynamics and predictive power in relation to forming cyberviolence incidents. Second, the platform can connect more directly to victims of cyber violence and respond most quickly to victims’ appeals. Thirdly, as a hub for information transmission, the platform is able to track the source and flow of information relatively quickly, so that it can take timely measures to divert, intercept, remove and other disposal measures for the dissemination of information related to cyber violence. Fourthly, as a controller or possessor of the data involved, the platform is able to connect more effectively with other main bodies of cyberviolence governance, and at the same time store relevant evidence for law enforcement or judicial use. Only when the platform faithfully fulfills its responsibilities can the benefits be transformed into governance efficiency.

With the increasing incidence of online violence against women, there has been a subtle shift in the attitude of social media towards online violence, which is one of the most important carrier for such incidents.

Facebook and Twitter have both put in place hate speech provisions on their websites, prohibiting users from spreading violent, threatening, intimidating and hateful content, and have added reporting buttons to simplify the original complex process for reporting, making it easier for users to report posts with sexual violence or offensive language. However, major social networking sites and government agencies are still exploring ways to combat online gender hate speech against women and protect women’s rights. We look forward to the establish of better laws and regulations and online platform governance in the future.

What can we do?

Of course, women are not the only victims of hate speech. Jeremy Waldron, a professor at New York University, said in his book The Harm In Hate Speech that social inclusion is a very important factor for a society. Every unique group needs to be accepted. In a pluralistic society, society can provide a vital sense of security for every member of society. It ensures that we can live in the way we want without facing hostility, violence, discrimination or rejection from others.

Stay away from gender hate speech and stop being an abuser

Maybe you have also expressed your views on the Internet, because the Internet is supposed to be a platform for people to speak freely, and everyone has the right to express their views. But at the same time, there are some bigoted people. On the network to make comments recklessly, some have even risen to personal attacks. We can put ourselves in our shoes and think about what would be going on in our minds if these offensive remarks were directed at us ……

Whether it is Member States, the private sector, media and Internet companies, faith leaders, educators, civil society actors, victims of hate speech, young people or as individuals, we all have a moral responsibility to stand firmly and publicly against hate speech and to play a key role in combating it.

No snowflake is innocent in an avalanche. In the age of typing without accountability, we never know if our comments will send someone else to rock bottom. We have to stand on an objective point of view and disseminate every piece of information on the Internet with an insistence on a responsible attitude and a voice of reason.

To address the issue of gender hate speech, gender equality education at the social and cultural levels should be strengthened. Also, the supervision of Internet platforms and the construction of response mechanisms need to be enhanced to provide a more secure online environment and more effective response policies. Last but not least, for women, we should learn how to protect ourselves, how to deal with online violence and hate speech, and how to seek help from relevant organizations. Laws must be more punitive than the cost of the crime, so that online offenders will receive the punishment they deserve to reduce hate speech and keep a safe society. Effective prevention and response to the harm caused by online hate speech to women requires the efforts of the whole society.

Reference list:

Backe, E. L., Lilleston, P., & McCleary-Sills, J. (2018). Networked individuals, gendered violence: A literature review of cyberviolence. Violence and gender5(3), 135-146.

Chetty, N., & Alathur, S. (2018). Hate speech review in the context of online social networks. Aggression and violent behavior40, 108-118.

Duggan, M. (2017). Online harassment 2017.

Flew, T. (2021). Regulating platforms. John Wiley & Sons.

Park, S., & Kim, J. (2021). Tweeting about abusive comments and misogyny in South Korea following the suicide of Sulli, a female K-pop star: Social and semantic network analyses. Profesional de la información/Information Professional30(5).

Waldron, J. (2012). The harm in hate speech. Harvard University Press.

Watson, S. (2024). Online abuse of women: an interdisciplinary scoping review of the literature. Feminist Media Studies, 24(1), 51-69.

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