It's well known that women suffer disproportionate and horrendous abuse on social media, but empirical evidence that reveals the scale of the problem is nevertheless alarming.
Azmina Dhrodia was part of an Amnesty International team that conducted research into the abuse received and endured by female MPs in the UK via Twitter in the six-week run-up to the election in June. They found that Diane Abbott was particularly singled out, the subject of a staggering 45 per cent of all abusive tweets during that period. As is evident from the content of many of the offending tweets, much of the abuse is racist as well as sexist in nature.
The impact is felt on a personal level - Abbott admits that the sheer volume of abuse is what "makes it so debilitating, so corrosive and so upsetting" - but also much more widely, in that it effectively serves to silence women's voices online, or at least make them think twice about posting. For those in the public eye for whom social media is (potentially) an invaluable communicative tool, such as MPs, this is particularly troubling.
Dhrodia argues that attitudes need to shift (or be shifted) in wider society, in recognition of the fact that online behaviour cannot be dissociated from offline reality - a difficult and long-term challenge. In the short term, though, Twitter could at least start more rigidly enforcing their own policies with regard to hateful conduct. As she implies, those policies are laudable but essentially pointless if not properly and consistently implemented, with many cowardly keyboard warriors currently free to post abuse with apparent impunity.
(Thanks to Sophie for the link.)