30 June 2022

Self-censorship, trolls and cyberflashing – the reality of being a woman online

In the third episode of Life Online, the podcast from Ofcom, former England footballer, Anita Asante, and journalist, author and radio presenter, Anna Whitehouse, join Ofcom’s Simon Redfern to discuss the realities of being a woman online.

Journalist, author and radio presenter, Anna Whitehouse, is proud that she’s built her career online and urges parents not to shut their children away from the internet.

Being on social media makes former England footballer Anita Asante feel closer to the fans and helps to raise the profile of the sport she loves.

But, speaking during Life Online – the podcast from Ofcom – the two told Ofcom’s Simon Redfern about the realities of being a woman on the internet. From unsolicited d*ck pics to trolls in the “underbelly” of the internet, Anna worries that “there’s no filter to that pain, that mental health reaction that we all have”.

Likewise, Anita who holds 71 international caps, describes her sadness that sexism, misogyny and racism are part of the day-to-day for younger players starting out.

Anna and her husband do the same job campaigning for flexible working, but their experiences are very different. As she said “he’s had nothing… I’ve had everything from d*ck pics, abusive comments… one woman told me she didn’t like my child’s hair”.

"I’m telling my girls to raise their voices, and I’m shutting my own down"

Anna Whitehouse

Anita has seen first-hand how far online abuse can go, speaking during the podcast she said: “I’ve had a former teammate who works in the public eye as a presenter who got a wave of trolling and abuse just for having an opinion as a woman – she literally had to come off social media.”

Ofcom recently released research that revealed the extent of abuse suffered by women online. They feel less confident about their online safety than men and much more deeply affected by discriminatory, hateful and trolling content.

We found that this is having a chilling effect on how women express themselves online, something Anna finds contradictory with the messages she is trying to give her own children: “I’m telling my girls to raise their voices, and I’m shutting my own down. It’s never happened to my husband ever.”

Both Anna and Anita are realistic about the need to be online, and the positives they take from it. But they find themselves taking action to protect themselves and their families. Anita told us “I hit the report button all the time”.

Calling for “regulation not demonisation” of social media, Anna made a “mother’s plea” to the platforms saying “until I feel comfortable that there is more regulation, I will be regulating it for them. And that is another thing to add to a parental load.”

You can listen to the full conversation on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, or wherever else you usually listen.

Where can I listen and subscribe to Life Online?

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