Women and Minority Groups Self-Censor Online to Avoid Harassment, Study Says

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Women and minorities are more likely to be silenced by harassment.Photo: serg3d/Getty Images/iStockphoto

It’s a well-known fact that women regularly face harassment online, but according to a new study, the fear of harassment is pressuring women and minority groups to self-censor, thereby removing their voices from the conversation. A new report by the Data & Society Research Institute and the Center for Innovative Public Health Research shows that 41 percent of women ages 15 to 29 self-censor, compared with 33 percent of men of the same age group.

And although men are technically just as likely as women to be harassed online, they’re less likely to label the behavior harassment or abuse. Which means that, when it comes to posting, they’re less likely to be inhibited by fear of future harassment.

What’s more, a “common theme” researchers found is that people under 30 who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender are more likely to witness and/or experience online abuse, and therefore more likely to self-censor what they post online. And the same holds true for young African-American internet users.

As Data Society & Research Institute fellow Alice Marwick points out in Quartz, the absence of certain voices online means that dialogue primarily happens among straight, white, cisgender men. “Social media like Twitter and Facebook are certainly flawed, but they function as hosts for public conversations on a huge variety of social issues,” she writes. “If women, people of color, and LGB internet users are shying away from contributing because of well-founded fears of retaliation, their voices will be missing from this important civic sphere.”

Maybe the Internet Isn’t a Fantastic Tool for Democracy After All