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Digital Women UK is one year old

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digital women UK, anniversary event, Julie Tomlin, Get ConnectedNot ‘just’ useful tools and tips for combatting sexual harassment.

By Julie Tomlin, co-founder of Digital Women UK.

A recent survey prompted headlines claiming that men are more likely to be harassed online than women, and gave rise to claims that women were wrong to think that they are abused online because they are women.

But this survey was carried out by among celebrities, politicians, journalists and musicians.

Does it really contradict what #Gamergate and the threats against gamer blogger Anita Sarkeesian – which forced her to leave her home in the USA – and the rise of so-called revenge porn seem to suggest, that gender plays a key part in the ways that women are being targeted on social media?

Carried out by think tank Demos, the survey shows that 2.54 per cent of the tweets containing the @ username of male public figures contained abuse, compared to 0.95 per cent of the tweets received by prominent women.

It should come as no surprise, however that that Piers Morgan and Ricky Gervais and Katie Hopkins – all of whom appear to thrive on controversy – were the main targets of insults.

Contained in the Demos survey there are some hints as to the nature of online harassment and how it impacts women.

Men, for instance, are most likely to be abusive online – they were responsible for 86.49 per cent of abusive tweets sent to men, and 60.42 per cent of those sent to women.

Furthermore, female journalists and TV news presenters received roughly three times as much abuse as their male counterparts, suggesting that women who engage in ‘non traditional’ spheres, along with those who challenge sexism, are more likely to be attacked.

The issue of online abuse has been on Digital Women UK’s radar since we launched one year ago to facilitate female creative practitioners to fully engage with social media, raise their profile, showcase their work and reach their target audiences, and provide training and campaigns for more inclusion online.

Digital Women UK’s Digital Confidence Survey showed that 14 per cent of women who took part said they had been abused – and 60 per cent took action to deal with it.

What our snapshot didn’t show, and what we hope to look at next, is the extent to which sexism, and racism, plays a part in this abuse.

Sexism is an aspect of so-called trolling that often gets overlooked in generalised discussions about online incivility that tend to focus on the social inadequacies of the trolls.

Academic, novelist and social media campaigner Sunny Singh, who will be discussing practical strategies for Digital Women UK’s first anniversary event, says her experiences indicate that the issue has little to do with social habits, politeness and good manners, and is more to do with who is accepted as an authority figure with valuable and valid opinions.

Singh, who deliberately uses a Twitter avatar that is non gender specific, said that often people assume she is a man and are very respectful and approving on her comments on politics.

“But the moment that I say I’m a woman, the tone changes – the gender bias is very obvious,” she said.

“As long as, in an Indian context, you are a man, or in an international, or western case, a white man, you have the authority to talk about serious things.

“You can have a conversation about finance, or politics or the military, etc, but the moment you are seen as a figure not deserving of authority, because of your biology, you can’t.”

Jessica Megarry, an academic now based in Australia, analysed the #mencallmethings hashtag, which was created in late 2011, and the examples of online harassment that female Twitter users received from men.

Making a distinction between sexual harassment and general incivility or abuse is vital, she said.

“The language we use to describe certain behaviours carries a lot of political weight, and we therefore need to be very careful in regards to terminology.

“Women have never been equal in the workplace or in the public sphere, and indeed the internet also emerged from the traditionally male dominated institutions of the military and academia,” she said.

“Yet when we talk about these issues there is a tendency to assume that we are starting from a level playing field where every voice is given equal weight.”

Singh is also concerned at how the role race plays also is not widely acknowledged.

“The silence of the mainstream media on this topic only exacerbates the isolation women of colour often feel online, especially when experiencing abuse,” she said.

In her presentation, she intends to “assert women of colour as a significant, productive and important presence on social media.”

Singh will be sharing strategies and practical steps on how to cope with online abuse and trolling, many of which she learnt during the Arab uprisings of 2011, particularly following the intervention of a group of women who acted as mentors, advising her and helping her draw on a network of trusted friends to fight back against the trolls.

In a recent Twitter discussion hosted by Digital Women UK about trolling and sexism, Sunny said that she would reach out to those she saw coming under attack.

Such collaborations are necessary if women are not only to use social media, but influence it and speak without fear of threat or harassment.

We hope that our anniversary event – Get Connected: Digital Women UK Turns One – will provide women with useful tools and tips for combatting sexual harassment as well as provide space for them to connect and begin to form effective partnerships and ensure that their presence, voices and strengths on social media are maximised in the future.

To see the programme, click here.

‘Get Connected: Digital Women UK Turns One’ is at Lift Islington, 45 White Lion Street, London N1 9PW, on 30 September 2014 from 9.30am to 6pm.

Tickets are still available and there are concessions and group discounts. To find out more about the event and how to book your tickets, visit us here; you can also call us on 020 3176 5646 or email us for info.

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