Online abuse is any type of abuse which happens on the internet. This can be via a variety of devices connected to the web, such as mobile phones, computers, laptops, tablets and game consoles. Online abuse happens on SNS, but it also applies to emails, gaming sites, and online forums
What is online abuse?
Online abuse is any type of abuse which happens on the internet. This can be via a variety of devices connected to the web, such as mobile phones, computers, and tablets. We focus on abuse that happens on SNS here, but it also applies to emails, gaming sites, and online forums.
Abuse is a behaviour which causes harm or distress to others, usually deliberately. Someone might make a harmful comment on a post or add offensive content deliberately to provoke a response. It can include both non-criminal (e.g. name-calling, offensive language) and criminal behaviours (e.g. distributing, or threating to distribute, sexual images without consent). Some forms of online abuse include creeping, cyberbullying, cyberstalking, doxing, and trolling.
Creeping – this refers to monitoring and regularly checking someone online and is often associated with SNS profile ‘checking’. This term can be associated with cyberstalking.
Cyberbullying – this can include sending, posting, or sharing negative, harmful, or false information about someone.
Cyberstalking – this involves someone using online spaces to stalk or harass. It may involve monitoring someone online and can involve elements of cyberbullying described above.
Doxing – this is when personal/private information about someone is revealed online with malicious intent. This might include posting someone’s mobile number, home address, or private information about their sexuality and/or gender. An example of doxing is ‘revenge porn’ which is classified as an online offence. This involves sharing private, sexual materials, photos or videos, of another person without their consent, with malicious intent. See the Government guidance on Revenge Porn for further information.
Trolling – this involves posting hateful content online to instigate conflict or directly attack someone or group of people. This can be done on public posts or via private messaging and is closely associated with cyberbullying.
What are the key issues identified by LGBTQ+ communities?
Anyone can experience online abuse; however, research indicates that gender and sexual minorities may be vulnerable to online discrimination.
LGBTQ+ online abuse is a direct result of prejudice towards someone’s perceived or actual sex, sexuality, or gender identity.
The high levels of hate-based abuse and discrimination experienced by LGBTQ+ communities offline, translates online too. Transphobia, biophobia, homophobia, discrimination against kink-identified individuals and communities (kinkphobia) and sexism find their way onto SNS, leaving many LGBTQ+ users feeling marginalised and unwelcome.
This is a particular problem for a group who are often marginalised in their offline communities and use SNS to find like-minded groups and share experiences. People may be ‘outed’ without consent or blackmailed.
The reach of SNS means that abuse against an individual can also have an impact on wider communities.
What are some of the personal experiences of online abuse?
This is a selection of short narratives of personal accounts from those who have taken part in the study. Many of these highlight the lasting impact of online abuse targeted at sexual and gender minority groups
“yes I’ve had fairly regular attacking threads from people saying that they wish that I’d had cancer, and making death threats to me and stuff like that…people who don’t understand the scene think you are a viable target for that sort of thing”
“I observe a lot of negativity, a lot of toxicity across all the various social media platforms. So in which case I don’t put myself in a position that I can get drawn into any of that; although I use all the platforms, I’m very guarded on what information I put out to the world”
“if I put my bio’s in, if I put my pronouns in…it puts a target on my back; and it did kind of open me up to the occasional message that wasn’t of the best intention. And so I eventually just decided that it’s not my responsibility to educate the world”
“I have had to report on 2 occasions to the police, because there were people who could have possibly have actually found me”
“I’m very strict with my Facebook posts with regards to who is on it and who sees it, but I remember once I had a couple of friends who I didn’t realise at the time, are quite religious, just like passing acquaintances, which is probably where Facebook isn’t great. So I posted something and all I got back was – You are going to burn in hell!”
“something that happened to me high school when I used social media a lot. I messaged my friend to tell them that I was also into girls as well as boys, I messaged that to my friend, and he actually had a friend over, who then screenshotted my conversation and then showed it to all the other people around school”
“I had an experience where I posted something on social media where it related to my sexual identity, and a lot of derogatory comments calling me pretty much every name under the sun saying how I identify is incorrect or wrong. It was horrible because I then felt scared to post anything else…It was quite scarring emotionally and mentally”
“a friend of mine was being severely harassed on the kink community; being severely harassed online for that, and he complained to Facebook, and they wouldn’t do anything about it”
“I had an incident where I met someone…and we had coffee, and we dated a little bit. I’ve got family, and what I do sexually has got nothing to do with them, and they used social media basically because I didn’t contact them again…to post the messages that we sent to each other which were quite private, quite explicit; and within seconds this went all over social media…it was possibly one of the most alarming days in my life because I never expected that people would do that”
“I’ve seen it in the past, a couple who breaks up, and somebody can report someone’s entire life on there in a second and the whole world your business, which is an alarming thing”
“somebody else put me on a for sale site; because I do have a male partner and his ex found out about this, and she actually put me on her for sale site as a whore for sale; which was absolutely horrendous”