Stronger Together: Women’s Experiences on Twitter

by | July 9, 2017 | Empathy | 0 comments

We all have women in our lives we care about: friends, sisters, co-workers, lovers, partners, mothers, wives, daughters, grandmothers.  Granted, women are strong.  They can protect themselves.  But we’d do just about anything to protect them anyway, wouldn’t we?

So I have a question for you.  Why don’t women feel protected by us on Twitter?  Let me walk you through some things I’ve recently learned.

When asked, six out of every ten women will tell you that Twitter is a toxic environment for them.  (Wait till you hear how they adapt.)

Obviously, men experience harassment too.  And some harassment comes from women.  But almost seven out of ten women say men are the source.

If it helps, think of them as the “bad men.”  But according to women, they overwhelmingly agree “good men” aren’t doing enough either.  I’m not okay with this.  And I doubt you are either.  This post, and the survey, were not meant to disparage us.  This is about awareness.

So let’s take a closer look.  Just how bad is this problem?  Is it gentle ribbing?  Trolling?  Are women too sensitive and over-reacting?  Let’s tackle that last question first.  No, women are not too sensitive.  And they are not over-reacting.  Ever.

How women experience life matters.  Many men have similar experiences.  Culture just seems to devalue emotions.  That in itself is toxic.

So, is it just trolling?  Not according to women, not when 40% of them report threats of violence, and of those, 70% include rape.  Are you okay with that?  How are you feeling right about now?  These are women we know.  Not just other women.  Obviously, all women matter, but these women are in our life: that aught to motivate you to want to make a difference here.

Please take a moment to think about this.  Imagine yourself in their shoes.  Can you imagine how devaluing it must feel for them?  Can you imagine having to tolerate so much abusive language and threatening behavior just to express your thoughts online?

These aren’t rare occurrences.  This is their every day experience, but we’ll talk more about that shortly.  Women have more to teach.

When asked, three out of every ten women have felt stalked on Twitter.  That’s staggering.  And of those, 50% experience it regularly.  This is not unsurprising when you think about the misogyny that is so prevalent in our society.  It translates to the online world too.

And as a result, most disturbing of all, that feeling of stalking goes further.  Two out of every ten women have been knowingly doxed.  Two out of every ten women have had someone dig into their private lives without their permission and use it to attack and intimidate them.

How do we know?  The short answer is if it was done for other reasons, they wouldn’t know it happened.  And that paints a scary picture.  Think about it.  Two out of every ten women felt their lives were exposed, their identities violated, used to threaten and even coerce them.

There’s little parallel in my own life that I could share with you.  Women have shared their stories with me and it’s appalling to hear.

Briefly, I want to point out that bullying and harassment are often targeted at an individual with multiple people participating in it.

This graph reveals that four out of ten women have had this experience, where an account has asked their followers to bully someone.  When this happens, the threats and intimidation can be distressing and overwhelming — with messages of support often in very short supply.

This is what I call being a “bully bystander.”  These are some of the instances where eight out of ten men failed to do enough for women.

When I started looking seriously at this situation, I had what I thought were some pretty safe assumptions about what was going on.  That turned out to be quite wrong.  I was wrong in small ways.  I was wrong in big ways.  You might think you know too.

You probably don’t.

I asked women how much harassment they experience; a little less than half said “none to little” (it’s more complicated than this).  Nearly four out of ten women felt they experienced moderate harassment.  And one to two out of every ten women said it was very toxic.

For those women who said they experience “little to no” harassment, I wanted to understand why they felt that was the case.  Half of women, perhaps predictably, assumed it was because they didn’t have very many followers (it turns out this probably isn’t a factor).  And a solid one out of every ten women said they just don’t post to their accounts, for no particular reason at all.

It’s the last group that is most revealing: almost four out of every ten women do not post to their accounts out of fear of harassment.  Remember, these are women who said they experience “little to no” harassment.  50% of women.  But 40% of those 50% know it could happen!

So that’s how they deal with the problem.  They essentially just self-censor.  They may have a presence here, but they’re in lurker mode.  And that’s bad for a democracy.  It is a chilling effect on women.  They’re told to shut up and sit down.  This is an attitude of the past.

There are many strong women on Twitter.  I could name many dozens.  They have strong followings.  And they post regularly.  But at a cost.  At a cost us men do not have to pay.  They must endure toxicity in their mentions without letting that toxicity seep into themselves.

It’s really not healthy for them.  Unless your guard is constantly up, no matter who you are, you will internalize those toxic messages.

One of the assumptions I had made is that greater volume of followers would result in greater toxicity, so I asked women about this.

For women who experience “moderate harassment” it really does not seem to matter how many followers they have.  It’s pervasive.  Constant.

And honestly, the same is even true for women who experience “very toxic” harassment.  The biggest change here is that toxicity gets much worse.

So think about some of the women in your lives.  Imagine their experiences, even with a few dozen or hundred followers.  You know many.  And then imagine your favorite accounts by women to follow.  Just empathize with how much toxicity they must tolerate to share with you.

It’s not okay, is it?  You probably didn’t realize just how bad things have gotten.  You’re probably wondering why Twitter isn’t helping.

Man to man, I’d like to ask you to put yourselves in the shoes of every woman you encounter.  Do it for the next week.  #ChallengeAccepted

And if you can, do it always.

Without women, there would be no resistance.  We need them.
And we all want them to feel safe.


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