Everyone has had to endure foul language at one time or another (hello, catcalling). But in the age of social media, women contend with a constant feed of profane remarks. For many women, using Twitter—a necessity in some workplaces—typically means dodging a barrage of negative comments from trolls, making it increasingly difficult to focus on the good stuff.
For a recent study, aptly named Troll Patrol, human rights organization Amnesty International teamed up with the global artificial intelligence software company Element AI to scour every tweet directed at 778 female journalists and politicians throughout 2017. Some 6,500 digital volunteers from around the world spent more than 2,500 hours analyzing the tweets. The findings are a serious wake-up call: Of 1.1 million tweets, more than 7 percent of were deemed “problematic” or “abusive.” In the course of a year, that’s one offensive tweet every 30 seconds.
Women of color were 34 percent more likely to receive those abusive tweets than white women, the study concluded, with black women targeted most frequently (they were victims 84 percent more often than white women). “We have the data to back up what women have long been telling us—that Twitter is a place where racism, misogyny, and homophobia are allowed to flourish basically unchecked,” said Milena Marin, senior adviser for tactical research at Amnesty International, per a statement to the press.
This sort of hate takes a toll, especially among women who are required to be active and engaging on the platform as part of their jobs. “Cyberbullying definitely impacts mental health. Past research has shown it can cause depression, anxiety, and even suicidal thoughts,” says New York City-based psychologist Paulette Sherman.
While it will take an overhaul of the platform to completely avoid abusive comments, your best bet is to take action. Do your best not to engage, then report and block the offenders, says Sherman. Focus on your mental health and think about why you’re on the platform in the first place. Despite the negativity, there’s a lot of good to be found as well. “Be sure to remind yourself that those trolls are angry and attempting to provoke a similar reaction. Take back your power and maintain your self-esteem by reminding yourself who you really are and re-engage in what matters to you,” she says. Also, follow accounts that make you happy, like one filled with adorable sled dogs or another that’s entirely filled with adorable otters.
Amnesty highlights a serious problem, encouraging platforms to better control the abuse and ensure users’ experiences are good ones—but for now, peeping cute animals is as good as it gets.
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