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Ending Gender Inequality

Ending Gender Inequality

Natasha Smith

Natasha Smith

February 13, 2018

Social media drives conversations—but so often those convos are disparaging to women. Havas’ head of communications in the UK shares how she’s fighting abusive language.

Abusive language on social media is one of the most insidious ways of promoting gender inequality. Faye Raincock, Havas UK’s head of communications, helps us understand why this continues to happen—and what to do about it.

“But there is a new movement that’s on the way. It is possible to change.”

On a cold February afternoon on the West Side of Manhattan, a group of academic, tech, business, and communications leaders gathered with one purpose: to fight gender inequality.

“Patriarchy still reigns,” said Raincock, at the Global Innovation Coalition for Change, an initiative from UN Women that creates an alliance of more than 20 partners to fight unequal treatment of women. “But there is a new movement that’s on the way. It is possible to change.”

Raincock is part of a network that’s determined to make the workplace a safer environment for women and girls across the globe. At the start of her candid talk, she gave a sobering warning: “I warn you that the language you’re about to hear may not make you feel comfortable, but there’s a conversation that needs to happen.”

Raincock’s focus in this particular conversation was on the negative language and sentiment targeted toward women on social media. In fact, a recent study commissioned by Havas UK underscores just how major a problem it is. “There is a really big challenge,” Raincock said.

For the study, researchers examined more than 50 million tweets over six months. They looked at messages addressed to 152 influential women—from politicians, broadcasters, and entertainers to businesswomen and athletes.

“At Havas, we used sophisticated algorithms to understand both language and sentiment,” Raincock explained.

So what did they find? “Nearly 43,000 tweets in that time either objectified the bodies of women or involved some type of name calling—that’s 238 tweets every day,” Raincock said.

Researchers grouped the tweets into four categories: gender specific slurs, intellect and ability, sexual harassment, and violence. Some interesting insights: the highest volume of these abusive tweets featured body objectification, which in some cases can include perceived compliments. And global leaders received a high volume of threats of sexual violence.

“If you wouldn’t say it to your mother, don’t say it at all.”

Entertainers had the highest volumes of abusive tweets. Raincock explained that celebrities are  connected to more people, so inevitably that results in more tweets but not the nature of them.

The most startling takeaway for many: Men and women are equally responsible.  “And, according to the research, there are as many women sending abusive tweets as men,” she said. “In fact, when it comes to the way we objectify women and talk about their bodies online, it is almost exactly the same proportion of objectification coming from women.”

But why is this happening?

“Desensitization, anonymity—because you often don’t see the direct impact of your actions online. And aligned to that is a clear lack of consequences for trolls,” Raincock continued. “Our goal is to find ways to change it. The first step to that is understanding. Working with specialists and our partners, we will take a deeper look at the environment that enables trolling and then work to overcome it.”

Raincock noted that some younger people do find abusive behavior online acceptable. And she acknowledged that there are different interpretations of the language. Change, she said, will come from campaigns that agitate and that interrupt abusive behavior: “For the sake of our daughters and their daughters who will continue to live more and more in an online world, let’s make the jungle a safer place.”

But her closing advice was even simpler: “If you wouldn’t say it to your mother, don’t say it at all.”

Abusive language on social media is one of the most insidious ways of promoting gender inequality. Faye Raincock, Havas UK’s head of communications, helps us understand why this continues to happen—and what to do about it.

“But there is a new movement that’s on the way. It is possible to change.”

On a cold February afternoon on the West Side of Manhattan, a group of academic, tech, business, and communications leaders gathered with one purpose: to fight gender inequality.

“Patriarchy still reigns,” said Raincock, at the Global Innovation Coalition for Change, an initiative from UN Women that creates an alliance of more than 20 partners to fight unequal treatment of women. “But there is a new movement that’s on the way. It is possible to change.”

Raincock is part of a network that’s determined to make the workplace a safer environment for women and girls across the globe. At the start of her candid talk, she gave a sobering warning: “I warn you that the language you’re about to hear may not make you feel comfortable, but there’s a conversation that needs to happen.”

Raincock’s focus in this particular conversation was on the negative language and sentiment targeted toward women on social media. In fact, a recent study commissioned by Havas UK underscores just how major a problem it is. “There is a really big challenge,” Raincock said.

For the study, researchers examined more than 50 million tweets over six months. They looked at messages addressed to 152 influential women—from politicians, broadcasters, and entertainers to businesswomen and athletes.

“At Havas, we used sophisticated algorithms to understand both language and sentiment,” Raincock explained.

So what did they find? “Nearly 43,000 tweets in that time either objectified the bodies of women or involved some type of name calling—that’s 238 tweets every day,” Raincock said.

Researchers grouped the tweets into four categories: gender specific slurs, intellect and ability, sexual harassment, and violence. Some interesting insights: the highest volume of these abusive tweets featured body objectification, which in some cases can include perceived compliments. And global leaders received a high volume of threats of sexual violence.

“If you wouldn’t say it to your mother, don’t say it at all.”

Entertainers had the highest volumes of abusive tweets. Raincock explained that celebrities are  connected to more people, so inevitably that results in more tweets but not the nature of them.

The most startling takeaway for many: Men and women are equally responsible.  “And, according to the research, there are as many women sending abusive tweets as men,” she said. “In fact, when it comes to the way we objectify women and talk about their bodies online, it is almost exactly the same proportion of objectification coming from women.”

But why is this happening?

“Desensitization, anonymity—because you often don’t see the direct impact of your actions online. And aligned to that is a clear lack of consequences for trolls,” Raincock continued. “Our goal is to find ways to change it. The first step to that is understanding. Working with specialists and our partners, we will take a deeper look at the environment that enables trolling and then work to overcome it.”

Raincock noted that some younger people do find abusive behavior online acceptable. And she acknowledged that there are different interpretations of the language. Change, she said, will come from campaigns that agitate and that interrupt abusive behavior: “For the sake of our daughters and their daughters who will continue to live more and more in an online world, let’s make the jungle a safer place.”

But her closing advice was even simpler: “If you wouldn’t say it to your mother, don’t say it at all.”

Natasha Smith is the strategic communications manager for Havas Group. She happily represents 404 in the 212.

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