Ofcom chief Dame Melanie Dawes has called for Big Tech firms to do more to protect women after finding they were increasingly more likely to be victims of online abuse than men.
In Ofcom’s annual Online Nation report, the watchdog found that in the last four weeks, women who go online are more likely than men to have seen or experienced misogynistic behaviour or seen self-harm and negative body image content.
Crucially, more than two in five women (43 per cent) said they felt bothered by harmful content they recently came across, compared to a third of men (33 per cent).
Only 42 per cent of the women felt comfortable about speaking freely online, with women also being less likely than men to feel free to be themselves online (33 per cent vs. 39 per cent)
The report comes as the government pushes forward with the Online Safety Bill, which looks to better protect users online and crack down on Big Tech.
As the online regulator, Ofcom’s role will be to ensure tech giants meet duties to improve user safety and provide transparency about how content is shared.
“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”, Dawes 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”, she added.
Commenting on the findings, Lisa Quest, Co-head of Public Sector, Europe, at Oliver Wyman told City A.M.: “Big tech companies have struggled to drive change at pace unless there is public, legal, or regulatory pressure to do so”.
She explained that policymakers should consider adding dedicated duties for tech companies to protect women online, in the same way as how the Online Safety Bill outlines dedicated protections for children.
“A holistic regulatory framework that decreases tech firms’ reliance on ad-based revenue, by changing business model incentives, to lessen the harm this indirectly causes to vulnerable users, particularly women, will be essential in driving meaningful change”, Quest added.
Meta’s Facebook has come under particular scrutiny after whistleblower Frances Haugen accused the social media giant of pushing dangerous algorithms, which directed users towards more hateful and divisive content.