Online abuse of women is widespread in the UK, with one in five women having suffered online abuse or harassment, according to research from Amnesty International. Almost half of women said the abuse or harassment they received was sexist or misogynistic, with a worrying 27% saying it threatened sexual or physical assault.
And it affects the left more now. With physical distancing measures and continuing lockdown, much of political activity has moved online. Zoom meetings have become the new normal, with forgetting to unmute and poor connection now routine in our political discussions.
Worse is the rise of Zoom-bombing. Lectures, strike rallies, social events and campaigns have been the victim of anonymous trolls taking over their meets. Silly interruptions, racist abuse, sexual misconduct have all been common. Once upon a time you had to leave your house and go to a meeting to disrupt it. Now it can be done from your basement.
Of course, disruptive behaviour isn’t unique to online meetings. But far fewer people are brave enough to get their dick out or shout sexist or racist language in a room full of people who could confront them face-to-face.
Women are suffering offline consequences of online abuse, with 55% saying that they experienced anxiety, stress or panic attacks as a result. Many faced other psychological consequences, such as loss of self-esteem and a sense of powerlessness in their ability to respond to the abuse. Young women are especially affected, with one in three polled saying that they have experienced online abuse.
Meeting coordinators are learning tactics to deal with disruptive participants. Avoiding publicly sharing a Personal Meeting ID, removing people where necessary, and disabling chat functions can all help, but some of these measures lock down meetings in a way we’d rather not.
We must ensure that in the left and in the labour movement we don’t stand behaviour which makes our comrades feel unsafe. We can’t stop online abuse, but we can show support and solidarity to those experiencing it, building our confidence to fight back.