The online abuse of women has got so bad that a “Mary Beard Prize” should be awarded to those who stand up to the threats and abuse of misogynistic bullies on social media, according to a leading expert.
Charles Leadbeater, a former Government adviser once described as “the wizard of the web” by Spectator magazine, said in a report called “A Better Web” that the “promise of a more collaborative, deliberative and civil culture” had often given way to the “ugly reality of baying mobs of trolls”.
“The web has given oxygen to some of our worst tendencies – from bullying to misogyny, sexism and sexual abuse. The internet opens up a vast world of different ideas and views. Yet most of us choose to confine ourselves to enclaves that reinforce our preconceptions,” he said.
However Mr Leadbeater, speaking to The Guardian, urged people “not to give up on the internet” and praised those – such as Cambridge University classics professor Mary Beard – who have stood up to people who threaten and abuse women.
“I’d love to create something like the ‘Mary Beard Prize for women online’ to support people who are supporting women to be able to use the internet safely,” he said.
“It’s outrageous that we’ve got an internet where women are regularly abused simply for appearing on television or appearing on Twitter.
“If that were to happen in a public space, it would cause outrage.”
The report, commissioned by charitable foundation the Nominet Trust, said the abuse of women should be “a source of deep concern for everyone involved in the web”.
“We cannot hope to increase the participation of young women in the tech sector if it so flagrantly fails to tackle sexism and misogyny on the grounds that to do so is in breach of free speech,” it said.
“The web cannot be called a civic space if women are routinely harassed.”
Mr Leadbeater added that there appeared to be a growing sense of “weary cynicism” about the internet, partly because some websites are using information about people without their knowledge.
“There is some sense in which the internet is in danger of not meeting its potential… the promise that was there in the mid-2000s, which was about collaborating to create better ways to do things,” he said.Reuse content