PEN America defines online abuse as the pervasive or severe targeting of an individual or group online through harmful behaviour.
When it's directed at women and gender-diverse people, it is considered technology-facilitated gender-based violence (TFGBV). And it happens at alarming rates.
FACT: An abusive tweet is sent to a woman on Twitter every 30 seconds, according to Amnesty International.
Defined by LEAF as the "use of technology to engage in manipulation, control, and sexual violence against women and gender-diverse people, and the proliferation of all forms of misogyny and gender-based violence online", TFGBV is inherently connected to larger systems of oppression and discrimination which affect women and gender-diverse people disproportionately, particularly "those who hold intersecting marginalized identities, such as 2SLGBTQQIA, Black, Indigenous, and racialized women; women with disabilities; and women who are socioeconomically disadvantaged".
Discrimination, prejudice, and unchecked fear aimed specifically at Black women and gender-diverse people has a name: misogynoir. (Misogynoir: where racism and sexism meet, The Guardian, October 2015)
Scale of Severity / Cause for Safety Concerns
Hover to view examples below.
Content Warning: Examples used here may be upsetting
"you're a hack"
"You're a fucking idiot."
& Racist Attacks
"Another angry bitch."
"People like you should be shot."
"I will kill you."
Insults & Harsh CriticismComments that mock your physical appearance or belittle your intelligence and abilities.
Profanity & VulgarityComments containing swearwords and/or sexual or demeaning references to body parts.
Sexist, Racist, & Homophobic AttacksComments that draw on demeaning stereotypes or that disparage real or perceived aspects of your identity, like sex, gender, sexual orientation, race, and country of origin.
GaslightingComments intended to negate and/or make you question your judgments and realities.
Implied Threats / IntimidationComments intended to shut you up by suggesting physical harm.
Explicit ThreatsComments that express precise and clear intention to harm you.
DoxxingBroadcasting private information about you (like your home address or social insurance number) that puts you at risk.
Slanderous or Libelous Comments (forms of defamation)False statements that damage your personal and/or professional reputation.
Rallying OthersComments that encourage others to join the attack against you.
Other forms of TFGBV:
posting or threatening to post sexually explicit images of you without your consent
posting video and audio recordings of you without your consent
attacking your website, phone, security system, other devices
impersonating you or your account(s) with fake accounts
deepfaking: digitally altering someone's face or body to make them appear to be someone else in images and/or videos, typically used maliciously or to spread false information
Governments are becoming increasingly aware of TFGBV. Many are working with civil society and industry to combat it. Advocates around the world are advancing all manner of recommendations to ensure an internet that is free from gender-based violence.
Informed Opinions joins other organizations in calling for urgent government action and accountability on the part of social media platforms to ensure an internet that is free from gender-based violence.
WHAT YOU CAN DO
Achieving an internet that is free from gender-based violence will require dismantling the systems of oppression and discrimination that support TFGBV. The onus should not be upon individuals to protect ourselves. However, until those with institutional power step up, here is what you can do to guard yourself from online abuse.