“Cyber Misogyny” on the Rise During COVID-19 Pandemic

by Vins
Published: Updated:

Gender-based violence escalated during the pandemic, which also forced many people to rely on online communication platforms such as Zoom, WhatsApp, Instagram, and Twitter. Unfortunately, the increased reliance on online platforms “provides abusers with a new avenue” to engage in harassment, stalking, and other forms of abuse, Suzie Dunn reported in a September 2022 article for Canadian feminist magazine Herizons. Technology, Dunn wrote, “can both amplify abuse and make such behavior easier to conduct.”

In a 2015, Nicole Etherington, then an advanced PhD candidate at the University of Western Ontario, coined the term cyber misogyny to describe “the various forms of gendered hatred, harassment, and abusive behavior targeted at women and girls via the internet.” Etherington’s 2015 brief defining the topic described the internet as a “new frontier for misogynistic hate, harassment, and abuse” and detailed some of its real-world consequences, including psychological distress, public humiliation, identity theft, job loss, and suicide. (Dr. Etherington is now a Senior Research Associate in the Clinical Epidemiology Program at the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute.)

As Dunn reported for Herizons, the pandemic significantly increased the amount of time spent online and how individuals communicate. With the implementation of lockdown restrictions intended to slow the spread of COVID-19, cyber misogyny flourished because many technology companies were unable to provide content moderation services to meet the increased demand for online communication. For example, as many higher education institutions turned to online platforms to provide remote learning, women reported harassment during lectures and offensive comments in course-focused group chats.

Beyond online classrooms, a cross-national study published in 2018 by Amnesty International, Toxic Twitter, documented how the popular social media service functioned as both a powerful tool for women to express themselves and vehicle for “technology-facilitated gender-based violence” that all too often “silenced” women and girls, Herizons summarized.

Dunn’s article concluded with a call for “more accessible options for content removal and a greater focus on victim-centered and trauma-informed responses.”

As of early March 2023, no major US news outlets appear to have covered the topic of cyber misogyny, as examined by Suzie Dunn’s article for Herizons.

Source: Suzie Dunn, “How to Stop Cyber Misogyny,” Herizons, January 15, 2022.

Student Researcher: Emily Kittell (North Central College)

Faculty Evaluator: Steve Macek (North Central College)