Social network giants pledge to tackle abuse of women online

Four of the world’s largest social networks have committed to overhauling their moderation systems to tackle the abuse of women on their platforms.

Facebook, Google, Twitter and TikTok have signed up to the pledge, led by the World Wide Web Foundation (WWWF), to fix persistent weaknesses in how they tackle online gender-based violence.

The announcement comes in the middle of a global forum for gender equality convened by UN Women in Paris. It is supported by an open letter signed by former heads of state and global leaders such as Michelle Bachelet and Graça Machel, and celebrities including Annie Lennox, Ashley Judd, Gemma Chan and Maisie Williams, which calls on the companies to fully implement the commitments.

More than a third of women worldwide have experienced abuse online, rising to almost half for younger women, according to a 2021 study from the Economist Intelligence Unit. The four tech companies have pledged to tackle that abuse by focusing on two major areas of concern across their platforms: women’s inability to control who can reply, comment on and engage with their posts; and the lack of clear and reliable reporting systems for flagging online abuse.

To improve the first area, known as curation, the companies have committed to offering more granular settings for users to curate their own safety, for example by allowing them to block individuals from replying to posts without blocking them entirely, or letting them limit the sharing of specific posts.

A woman using her mobile phone

They have also committed to using “more simple and accessible language throughout the user experience” to improve access to safety tools and proactively reduce the amount of abuse women see online.

On reporting, the companies have committed to offering users the ability to track and manage their reports once they have been made, and the ability to flag context and language that may alter how a particular piece of content is interpreted.

They are also committing to provide more guidance for users who want to report abuse, to help ensure problems are not rejected simply for failing to tick the right boxes on social networks’ internal systems.

The WWWF’s senior policy manager, Azmina Dhrodia, said: “For too long, women have been routinely harassed, attacked and subsequently silenced in online spaces. This is a huge threat to progress on gender equality. With their resources and reach, these four companies have the power to curb this abuse and improve online experiences for hundreds of millions of women and girls.

“Now, they’ve had the chance to work together with leading experts from different sectors to co-create solutions that can lead to real, industry-wide change. The commitments they’ve made today should be celebrated as a major win and act as a springboard for companies to tackle abuse against women as a top priority.”

Dawn Butler MP, who participated in the WWWF’s investigation into online abuse, said: “As a Black female politician, I am subjected to more abuse than my white female counterparts. When this abuse comes, it is to silence my voice.

“I refuse to allow that to happen, but the level of the abuse has forced me to close my office as I could no longer guarantee the safety of my team. At one point, the abuse got so bad that a member of my staff bought themselves a stab vest as a means of protection.”

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