Half Of Misogynistic Abuse Online Comes From Women, Says Study, Which Is Troubling For So Many Reasons

It's no secret that a lot of people send misogynistic abuse to women online, but it might surprise you where a lot of that abuse comes from: A new study found that 50 percent of misogynistic abuse on Twitter is sent by women. It's worth noting that the methodology of the study may have a few weaknesses, but even so — it's sobering news all the same. In a culture that so frequently pits women against each other, it looks like the effects of these societal pressures can be seen online, too. So much for sisterhood, I guess.

The study, conducted by the British think-tank Demos, looked at Twitter data to determine how many tweets used abusive language over a period of time. Specifically, they looked at the words "slut" and "whore," and then used algorithms to determine which tweets were overtly aggressive as opposed to a form of self-identification. They determined that 200,000 tweets identified as abusive were sent worldwide to 80,000 unique users (which also means each user received an average of 2.5 of these tweets). They also found that roughly half of those tweets were composed by women.

Previous research, including other research done by Demos, has found that women are disproportionately likely to be the targets of online abuse, particularly gendered abuse. But the issue is often framed as one of women being attacked primarily, though not exclusively, by men. As such, the idea that half of all misogynistic abuse comes from women is somewhat surprising — as well as more than a little depressing.


As I mentioned previously, though, this latest study does have some holes. For one thing, it looks for tweets containing only two very specific gendered insults; it could be that women are disproportionately likely to use these insults as opposed to others, skewing the results more heavily towards women.

It's also difficult to always gage the gender of an online user. Presumably, anonymous users without anything to indicate their gender were excluded from gender analysis, though Demos makes no mention of them in their breakdown; but it could be that men are more likely to create such accounts, and thus make us a much larger piece of the puzzle than is apparent.

In other words, more research would be necessary to determine whether or not these results truly reflect the reality. Still, they're... not great.


Whether or not women are equal offenders in sending gendered harassment, of course, that doesn't make it any less of a gendered problem — no matter who is aiming abuse at women, the fact that women are disproportionately likely to receive it is still sexist and unfair. But this does mean we might have to grapple with why women are also targeting other women in this way, and on this scale.

It's no secret that internalized misogyny exists and can be toxic. If women really are just as likely as men to send gendered abuse, online, however, it might be a sign we need to spend more time addressing the issue — not only because it's probably more serious than many people have apparently realized, but also because it could be a key part of reducing the amount of hate women receive online.

And whatever else happens, we need to do something about the amount of abuse women receive online.

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