<p>Woman looks at her phone</p>

Woman looks at her phone

Facebook, TikTok, Google and Twitter vow to tackle ‘pandemic of online abuse against women’

Online abuse of women is a ‘threat to progress on gender equality’, MPs, actors and activists say

Saman Javed
Thursday 01 July 2021 16:13
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Facebook, Google, TikTok and Twitter have vowed to make improvements to their platforms which will better protect women against abuse online.

The companies have pledged to fix weaknesses in their approach to handling abuse by focusing on two main areas; women’s control over their own safety and reliable reporting systems.

In an announcement during the United Nations Generation Equality Forum in Paris on 1 July, the social media sites and the search engine said they will overhaul their settings, giving users more control over who can engage with their content.

For example, users will be able to block individuals from replying to their posts, without blocking them entirely.

The companies will also be “reducing the burden on women by proactively reducing the amount of abuse they see”, but approaches will differ amongst the platforms.

In a bid to strengthen reporting processes, platforms will give users the ability to track and manage their past reports and provide more guidance on how to report abuse. There will also be an increased focus on assessing language and the context it is used in when dealing with a report.

The commitments come after a year-long campaign by the World Wide Web Foundation which consulted with experts, governments and women affected by online abuse on solutions to the issue.

As many as 28 per cent of women across the world have experienced online abuse, according to The Economist’s Intelligence Unit. The figure rises to 45 per cent for Gen Z and Millennial women.

More than 150 MPs, CEOs, actors and activists have signed an open letter that recognises the companies’ pledges and urges them to act on them.

The open letter, which has been signed by dozens of high-profile women, including MPs Dianne Abbot, Jess Phillips and Fleur Anderson and actors Emma Watson, Lily Cole and Gemma Chan, said we are in a “pandemic of online abuse against women and girls”.

“The internet is the town square of the 21st century. It is where debate takes place, communities are built, products are sold and reputations are made.

“But the scale of online abuse means that, for too many women, these digital town squares are unsafe. This is a threat to progress on gender equality,” the women said.

The group also suggested the invention of an online dashboard, which will show users the status of all their abuse reports in one place, as well as access to additional support when needed.

Lorraine Ni Annrachain, Campaign Manager at Plan International, which has been calling on social media companies to improve reporting mechanisms as part of its Free To Be Online campaign, told The Independent the commitments are a “welcome step” towards making online spaces safer for women.

“Girls and young women need to know that when they’re abused, stalked and threatened online, they can report it to the social media platform. That they’ll be listened to. That action will be taken, and perpetrators will be held to account,” she said.

She added: “It is critical that social media companies keep involving girls and young women, in all their diversity, in building and developing reporting mechanisms that work for them and truly meet their needs.”

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