The research found that women are almost as likely as men to use the terms “slut” and “whore” on Twitter / Getty Images


Women are almost as likely as men to use online misogyny, according to a new study which exposes the scale and reach of sexist abuse on the internet in Britain.

Research by the think-tank Demos at the Centre for the Analysis of Social Media at the University of Sussex found that women are almost as likely as men to use the terms “slut” and “whore” on Twitter.

In a six-week sample of posts from UK Twitter users, the word rape was mentioned around 100,000 times, of which more than one in 10 were threats. These included someone being sent a public post saying: “can I rape you please, you’ll like it.”

Researchers found that women are often directing abusive terms such as “slut” or “whore” at each other, both casually and offensively, and warned such frequent use is “normalising this language”. Some of the tweets sampled using this language were threatening, such as: “You stupid ugly fucking slut I’ll go to your flat and cut your fucking head off you inbred whore.”

The study highlights the scale of a problem that was propelled to national prominence last summer after the feminist campaigner Caroline Criado-Perez was one of several high-profile people in Britain subjected to a sustained series of rape and bomb threats from Twitter users. A woman, Isabella Sorley, was given an eight-week prison sentence for sending abusive tweets to Ms Criado-Perez following her campaign to have Jane Austen appear on the £10 note.

Ms Criado-Perez told The Independent the frequency of the rape tweets uncovered in the research shows this is a “societal problem and there needs to be a societal solution”, and cannot be left to police.

“I had a terrible time and it had a terrible impact on my mental health.”

Ms Criado-Perez said it was “terribly sad” that women were shown to be almost as likely to use casual misogyny online as men, but added that “it’s a symptom of the way society is set up at the minute”.

In a four-week sample over January and February this year there were more than 130,000 posts from UK Twitter accounts using the terms “slut” and “whore”. Of these, a fifth were threatening or abusive and 18 per cent were to say something misogynistic, such as “Why take photos lookin [sic] like a slut and then moan when people say bad things?” A further 35 per cent were used in a casual way, such as “reply to my texts you slut LOL”. 

Sofia Patel, who conducted the research, said: “The real surprise is that women appear to be as comfortable using misogynistic language as men are.

“Using these words casually may lead to more and more people getting desensitised to them.”