Ofcom urges tech firms to step up to protect women against online abuse
Media regulator Ofcom has said tech companies must do more to protect women on the internet after a study into the nation’s online lives revealed they are disproportionately affected by online abuse.
In its annual Online Nation report, the watchdog 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.
Its chief executive Dame Melanie Dawes said the onus is on technology businesses, who build the sites and apps used by millions of people in the UK, to make the online world a safer space for women and girls.
“The message from women who go online is loud and clear – they are less confident about their personal online safety and feel the negative effects of harmful content like trolling more deeply,” she said.
“We urge tech companies to take women’s online safety concerns seriously and place people’s safety at the heart of their services.
“That includes listening to feedback from users when they design their services and the algorithms that serve up content.”
The report, which surveyed 6,619 online users between the ages of 13 and 85, found that women spend more than a quarter of their waking hours online and are avid users of social media platforms.
However, while the study found that the majority of people say the benefits of being online outweigh the risks, women were considerably less likely than men to agree (63 per cent against 71 per cent).
Similarly, fewer women said they felt confident that they will not come to harm online (64 per cent versus 73 per cent of men) while female participants said they felt less able to share their opinions and have a voice online (42 per cent compared to 48 per cent of men).
The report found that women were more likely to be exposed to content relating to negative body image, excessive dieting or eating disorders than men while men are more likely to be exposed to scams, misinformation and violent content.
Ofcom noted that the Online Safety Bill, which was introduced at Westminster in March, will require tech firms to ensure all users are better protected online.
It added that “as online regulator, Ofcom will make sure tech companies meet their duties to improve user safety while championing the great things about the internet, including free speech”.