Women Are Likelier Than Men to Be Impacted by Online Abuse, Ofcom Study Finds

The UK agency is pushing tech companies to provide better digital protection for women and girls.

Kourtnee Jackson
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Women don't feel as confident or safe online as men, according to Ofcom study.

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An Ofcom study conducted in the UK found that women internet users do not feel as safe online as men, and are more likely to be negatively affected by abuse. The government agency surveyed more than 6,600 participants ages 13 to 85 to track negative and positive experiences online, including social media, gaming, news and shopping platforms. 

According to Ofcom's latest Online Nation report, women encounter more harmful content about body image, weight, self-harm and misogyny than men. While men see more instances of online scams, phishing, misinformation and violence, it's women who experience higher rates of concern or distress. "More than two in five women (43%) say they felt bothered by harmful content they recently came across online, compared to a third of men (33%)," Ofcom reported.  

When it comes to hateful and offensive content, 85% of women took issue compared to 70% of men. Additionally, 60% of women had concerns about trolling as opposed to only 25% of men. Drilling further into the statistics, Ofcom found that of the women surveyed, women of color are more likely to feel disturbed by online harms (52%) than their white counterparts (43%). 

Researchers reported that participants were asked about how their mental health was impacted by going online, and women were nearly twice as likely as men to disagree (23% versus 12%) that it has a positive impact. Ofcom gleaned some its data from its online experience-tracking tool between November and December. The study indicates Instagram and Facebook are among the top apps used daily by UK adults. 

"The message from women who go online is loud and clear," Ofcom's chief executive, Melanie Dawes, said in a statement. "They are less confident about their personal online safety, and feel the negative effects of harmful content like trolling more deeply." 

The UK is moving toward instituting the Online Safety Act, which tasks tech companies with boosting digital protections for online users and acting quickly to remove harmful content.  

In July, social media giants Twitter, TikTok, Facebook and Google pledged to improve online safety for women during a UN-sponsored event. And in February, Twitter expanded its beta autoblocking feature to fight harassment on the platform.