Tech Firms Urged By Ofcom To Do More To Protect Women Online

The Tap Economy

UK regulator says women are heavier users than men of most social media platforms, and urges tech firms to keep women safer online

The UK communications watchdog Ofcom has released a report that has found that women are more affected by discriminatory, hateful and trolling content found online.

Ofcom has thus urged tech and social media firms to do more to protect women online, and said these firms must “act now to make the online world a safer space for women and girls.”

The tech industry, like other industries, is working to address decades of gender imbalances. At the moment only 19 percent of UK IT professionals are female, yet more female graduates are coming out of universities than men.

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Ofcom data

But the Ofcom annual Online Nation report found that women are less confident about their online safety than men, more negatively affected by discriminatory, hateful and trolling content, and feel less able to have a voice and share opinions online.

The regulator found that UK women are avid users of social media platforms, spending more than a quarter of their waking hours online – around half-an-hour each day more than men (4hrs 11min vs. 3hrs 46min).

But for many women, life online is not always a positive experience, Ofcom says.

Read Silicon UK’s exploration whether women across the tech industry feel there has been a shift in the opportunities open to them, or if barriers and discrimination still exist.

Ofcom’s study found that while the majority of people say the benefits of being online outweigh the risks, women are considerably less likely than men to agree (63 percent vs. 71 percent).

Similarly, fewer women feel confident that they won’t come to harm online (64 percent vs. 73 percent of men).

Female participants in Ofcom’s research also said they feel less able to share their opinions and have a ‘voice’ online (42 percent compared to 48 percent of men). Women are also less likely than men to feel free to be themselves online (33 percent vs. 39 percent). For many, life online can replicate harmful discriminatory dynamics that exist in wider society.

The report also found that, in the last four weeks, women who go online are more likely than men to have seen or experienced:

  • content relating to negative body image, excessive dieting or eating disorders (9 percent vs. 6 percent);
  • misogynistic content – that which objectifies, demeans or otherwise negatively portrays women (9 percent vs. 7 percent);
  • content relating to self-harm or suicide (4 percent vs. 2 percent).

More impacted

Men who go online are more likely than women to have seen or experienced:

  • scams, fraud and phishing content (30 percent vs. 25 percent);
  • misinformation (25 percent vs. 19 percent);
  • content depicting violence (11 percent vs. 7 percent).

Overall, men are more likely than women to have experienced potentially harmful online behaviour or content in the last four weeks (64 percent vs 60 percent).

But the study shows that women are more negatively affected by the harmful content they encounter.

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

“We urge tech companies to take women’s online safety concerns seriously and place people’s safety at the heart of their services,” said Dawes. “That includes listening to feedback from users when they design their services and the algorithms that serve up content.”