The Facts about Gendered Digital Hate, Harassment, and Violence

What is Gendered Digital Hate, Harassment, and Violence?

Digital hate, harassment, and violence against women, girls, Two Spirit, trans, and non-binary people is a growing problem. It can happen in digital environments like social media or gaming sites, and technology tools can also be used in the course of perpetuating gender-based violence (e.g. rideshare and dating apps). It is referred to as tech-facilitated gender-based violence, cyberviolence, and more.

The United Nations (2018) describes online gender-based violence against women as acts “committed, assisted or aggravated in part or fully by the use of information and communication technologies, such as mobile phones and smartphones, the Internet, social media platforms or email, against a woman because she is a woman, or which affects women disproportionately.”

“Gender-based cyber-violence is a constantly changing concept … rapid technological transformations influence online violence, and new and different manifestations of violence emerge as digital spaces transform and disrupt offline life” (Organization of American States).

Online hate, harassing, and abusive material is especially dangerous due to the multiplier effect online. Even when it is deleted in some digital spaces, it exists in others and can repeatedly expose those targeted to harm (Canadian Women’s Foundation, 2019).

Women, girls, and gender-diverse people are at high risk of digital abuse and hate, especially the most severe types of harassment and sexualized abuse (Standing Committee on the Status of Women, 2017). Sixty-seven per cent of those who report online intimidation to police are women and girls, and one in five women report experiencing online harassment (Statistics Canada, 2019).

Some in Canada experience more unwanted behaviour online, including 33% of young women between 15 and 24, 30% of Indigenous women, and 50% of all bisexual women (Government of Canada, 2022). International data is similar: 73% of women worldwide face abuse online, according to the UN Broadband Commission (2015). More than half (52%) of women polled disagree with the statement that “the internet is a safe place to express my opinions.”

Technology-facilitated violence or technology-facilitated gender-based violence encapsulates the ways in which technology is used to perpetuate gender-based violence, abuse, and harassment against women, girls, and gender-diverse people (Women’s Legal Education and Action Fund, 2021).

“Technology-facilitated [gender-based violence] is informed by the connection or relationship between the victim/survivor and the perpetrator. This relationship may be personal or impersonal. Or, the relationship can also be institutional, in which public figures or state entities commit GBV through technology to further an ideological agenda or enforce a law” (Hinson et al., 2018).

While definitions vary, online hate is rooted in hatred of a group of people based on their race, faith, nationality, gender, sexual orientation or other characteristics. “In addition to police-reported incidents that involve a hate crime motivation, there are four specific offences listed as hate propaganda and hate crimes in the Criminal Code of Canada: advocating genocide; incitement of hatred in a public place that is likely to lead to a breach of the peace [public incitement of hatred]; wilful promotion of hatred, all when directed against an identifiable group, and; mischief motivated by hate in relation to property primarily used for religious worship” (Wang and Moreau, Canadian Centre for Justice and Community Safety Statistics, Statistics Canada, 2022).

Cyberviolence also has varying definitions, but the United Nations uses the term to capture how the Internet can be used to “exacerbate, magnify, or broadcast the abuse”. Cyberviolence can be as damaging as physical violence and can include harassment as well as threats of physical harm such as sexual assaults, murders, and suicides. (UN Broadband Commission, 2015).

Cyberbullying is often associated with children and youth being harassed online (eQuality Project).

Another term used to refer to online gendered violence is cyber misogyny, defined as “various forms of gendered hatred, harassment, and abusive behaviour targeted at women and girls via the Internet.” The term “draws attention to the discriminatory nature of this behaviour, which occurs within a context of power and marginalization. In this way, cyber misogyny is a more nuanced term than the more general cyberbullying” (Etherington, 2015).

Why is ending gendered digital hate, harassment, and abuse so urgent?

  • The harm is significant and pervasive, and survivors can be revictimized any time the harmful material is shared. It has global reach—it’s difficult to escape or to stop (Bailey and Mathen, 2019).
  • Its effects are multiplied for people who face other forms of discrimination on top of sexism, including women who are Indigenous, Black, and living with disabilities, among others. They are doubly targeted (Canadian Women’s Foundation, 2019).
  • Exposure to attitudes promoting an inferior position for women escalates the risk others will adapt similar attitudes and engage in more violent behaviour (Canadian Women’s Foundation, 2019; Flood and Pease, 2009).
  • It leads to women and gender-diverse people being silenced in the public sphere (Government of Canada, 2022).

In summary, gendered digital hate, harassment, and violence pose a pressing threat to women, girls, Two Spirit, trans, and non-binary people online.

These forms of violence have a global reach and perpetuate harm, particularly for those facing additional discrimination. Your support can make a difference in combating online hate.

Consider donating today to support our work to help create safer online spaces for all and amplify diverse online creators. Your contribution can help empower survivors, challenge harmful attitudes, and promote inclusivity. Join us in ending gendered digital hate.

Frequently Asked Questions about Gendered Digital Hate, Harassment, and Violence

Here are some of the forms it can take.

Harassment: unwanted, hateful, threatening, or damaging communications, sent once or multiple times. Networked harassment happens when groups of people come together to target a person and/or type of individual with the intention of causing them harm (Hoffart and Kardashevskaya, 2022).

Cyberstalking: “use of the internet, email, or other telecommunication technologies to harass or stalk another person. This could include the intentional behaviour to intimidate victims or make their lives unbearable. It is not the mere annoyance of unsolicited e-mail, it is methodical, deliberate, and persistent. The communications, whether from someone known or unknown, do not stop even after the recipient has asked the sender to cease all contacts, and are often filled with inappropriate, and sometimes disturbing, content. Essentially, cyberstalking is an extension of the physical form of stalking” (Canadian Resource Centre for Victims of Crime, 2022).

Image-based sexual abuse: non-consensual distribution of intimate images including: creepshots/voyeurism (taking secretive images or videos of someone in settings where that person could reasonably expect privacy), livestreaming/documenting assaults (recording/digitally documenting and distributing assaults/sexual assaults), sextortion (using intimate images to coerce someone), deepfakes (using artificial intelligence technology to swap the faces of people in videos or pictures), and revenge porn (intimate or sexual images or videos posted without consent online, often after a breakup) (Hoffart and Kardashevskaya, 2022; Government of Canada, 2022).

Digital dating violence or online dating abuse: “use of technologies such as texting and social networking to bully, harass, stalk or intimidate a partner. Often this behaviour is a form of verbal or emotional abuse perpetrated online” (BC Society of Transition Houses, 2019). Abusive online relationships can be part of abusive offline relationships, but the harm is different. It’s easier to gang up on someone and the more comments there are, the more the harm is amplified, online anonymity makes it difficult to know who is participating in the abuse, the abuse lives permanently online, and there is no escape as devices are also used for positive social interactions with friends and family (Canadian Women’s Foundation).

Hacking: “using technology to gain illegal or unauthorized access to systems or resources for the purpose of acquiring personal information, altering or modifying information, or slandering and denigrating the victim and/or [violence against women] organizations. e.g., violation of passwords and controlling computer functions – freeze the computer, log off the user” (Centre for Research & Education on Violence Against Women & Children, 2013).

Doxing: publishing private or identifying information about someone online (Government of Canada, 2022).

Flaming: posting insults or personal attacks on the internet (Government of Canada, 2022).

Impersonation: using technology to damage reputation by impersonating someone on social media, dating apps, websites, or other online spaces. Includes spoofing, which refers to sending messages so that it looks like it is coming from a person’s phone or email when it is not (Hoffart and Kardashevskaya, 2022).

Online sexual offences against children: including luring and making, distributing, possessing, or accessing child pornography (Ibrahim, Canadian Centre for Justice and Community Safety Statistics, 2022).

Gendered and sexualized disinformation: “a subset of online gendered abuse that uses false or misleading gender and sex-based narratives against women, often with some degree of coordination, aimed at deterring women from participating in the public sphere. It combines three defining characteristics of online disinformation: falsity, malign intent, and coordination” (Jankowicz et al., 2021).

One in five women in Canada experience online harassment. “Women (28%) were also more likely than men (19%) to have taken measures such as blocking others online or deleting accounts in order to protect themselves from online harassment” (Statistics Canada, 2019).

Women are more likely than men to be cyberstalked. Single and separated/divorced women are more likely than other women to report being cyberstalked. Women who experience cyberstalking are 25% less likely than other women to rate their mental health as very good or excellent (Statistics Canada, 2017).

Of technology-facilitated violence cases reported to courts of appeal or the Supreme Court from the 1990s to 2018, 76% of the complainants were female, while 91% of the accused were male (Bailey and Mathen, 2019).

“A global report which synthesized results from surveys on online [violence against women and girls], from 2018 onwards showed a prevalence ranging from 16% to 58% … The most common forms of online violence included misinformation and defamation (67%), cyber harassment (66%), and hate speech (65%)” (UN Women 2022).

“Among young adults aged 18 to 29 years, young women (32%) were more often the target of online abuse, with a prevalence almost double the rate of young men (17%). This gender difference was especially pronounced for receiving unwanted sexually suggestive or explicit material, where young women (22%) were almost three times as likely to be targeted as young men (8%)” (Statistics Canada, 2023).

“While boys (24%) and girls (25%) aged 12 to 17 years were equally likely to experience cybervictimization, non-binary youth had a significantly higher risk. Over half (52%) of youth who reported a gender other than man or woman said that they were cybervictimized in the past year. The higher prevalence among non-binary youth was seen across all types of cybervictimization” (Statistics Canada, 2023).

Over half of girls surveyed from around the world have experienced online harassment and abuse (Plan International, 2020).

A survey of girls and young women in Canada found that 6 in 10 respondents had been harassed or abused online. “The types of harassment that most girls are facing … are abusive and insulting language (72%), purposeful embarrassment (64%), body shaming (61%), sexual harassment (55%) and stalking (51%)” (Plan International).

A US study found that the majority of online multiplayer gamers aged 13 to 17 are affected by harassment, and “identity-based harassment was a problem for young gamers who identified as Black or African American, women, and Asian American” (Anti-Defamation League, 2021). In Canada, 89% of six to 17 year-olds play video games and 18% of kids and teen gamers play massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMPORGs) (Entertainment Software Association of Canada, 2020).

In Canada, hate crimes have increased 27% since 2020, and 72% since 2019. The spike has been linked to increasing expressions of hate in digital spaces, including those directed at women and 2SLGBTQIA+ people, as well as highly targeted ethnic and religious groups (Statistics Canada, 2023).

“Of the 575 hate crimes that were also recorded by police as cybercrimes between 2016 and 2020, these most commonly targeted the Muslim population (16%), the Black population (15%), a sexual orientation (13%), and the Jewish population (13%)” (Wang and Moreau, Statistics Canada, 2022).

In a poll across eight countries, 58% of women reported online harassment they faced included racism, transphobia, homophobia, or sexism (Amnesty International, 2017).

A three and a half-year US and UK study found 1.5 million transphobic comments posted online (

2SLGBTQ+ students are more likely to be targets of online bullying, harassment, and hate compared to heterosexual students. While 8 per cent of cisgender and heterosexual students were targeted, 27% of LGBQ female students, 39% of transgender students, and 19% of LGBQ male students were targeted (Peter et al., 2021).

In Canada, 44% of women and gender-diverse people aged 16 to 30 report having been personally targeted by hate speech online. Those most likely targeted include people with disabilities (70%), 2SLGBTQIA+ people (59%), Indigenous people (59%), and Black people (53%) (YWCA Canada, 2022).

UK and US data shows that racialized women are 34% more likely to be mentioned in abusive or problematic tweets than white women. Black women are especially targeted – they are 84% more likely than white women to be mentioned in abusive or problematic tweets (Amnesty International).

More than 96% of responding domestic violence shelters in Canada served women who had experienced technology-facilitated gender-based violence (Women’s Shelters Canada, 2022).

Perpetrators of gender-based violence may use “telephone, surveillance, computer technologies, apps and social media platforms to harass, terrify, intimidate, coerce, and monitor women and girls. Perpetrators are also misusing technology to stalk women and girls before, during, and after perpetrating sexual violence. It is common for a perpetrator to misuse multiple technologies at once while also using more traditional power and control tactics such as withholding access to the couple’s children and/or finances” (BC Society of Transition Houses, 2019).

According to a survey of anti-violence workers in British Columbia, respondents said 92% of perpetrators used technology to harass or threaten and 58% used technology to monitor or surveille, including the 85% who hacked and monitored social media accounts, 79% who hacked into smartphones, 76% who hacked into emails, and 56% who installed monitoring software/hardware on their target’s computer. Many perpetrators (83%) also isolated the person they victimized by destroying or limiting their access to technology (BC Society of Transition Houses, 2020).

The Coalition for Women in Journalism reports that Canada is the country where the greatest number of women journalists were exposed to organized troll campaigns in 2022.

In 2022, 27% of people in Canda saw false and inaccurate information online every day and 11% saw content that might incite hate or violence every day (Statistics Canada, 2023).

Seventy-six per cent of #ToxicHush survey respondents said they experienced and/or noticed an increase in online harassment, abuse, or hate (Informed Opinions, 2022).

“Many people have experienced or faced racist, sexist or homophobic comments or content. 42% have seen or experienced comments or content that incites violence online … Racialized Canadians are almost three times more likely to have experienced this kind of behaviour online (14% vs. 5% among non-racialized Canadians)” (Canadian Race Relations Foundation, 2021).

Cyberviolence can have a uniquely devastating psychological and emotional impact on survivors. The internet allows for repeated and cumulative occurrences of violence, and survivors can be revictimized any time an image or comment is reproduced, publicized, shared, and viewed. Cyberviolence can have global reach and can take place anytime—it’s difficult to escape or to stop (Bailey and Mathen, 2019).

Amnesty International (2017) found that, of women who experienced online abuse across eight countries, 41% felt their physical safety was threatened and 20-25% faced threats of physical or sexual assault. Sixty-one per cent experienced lower self-esteem and self-confidence; 55% experienced stress, anxiety, or panic attacks; 63% had trouble sleeping; 56% reported their concentration was affected; 76% changed how they interacted with media; 32% stopped expressing opinions online; and 24% feared for their family’s safety.

A survey by Battered Women’s Support Services (2014) in British Columbia, Canada found that, due to cyberviolence: 48% of women surveyed experienced anxiety, 43% said their self-image was damaged; 40% reported that they withdrew from online activity; 30% felt shame and humiliation; 28% experienced isolation from friends and family; 13% reported “some impact on their job (losing their job, being unable to advance in job or being unable to find a new job)”; 10% reported that they had thoughts of suicide and self-harm; and 3.3% of had to move out of their community.

The effects of online hate are multiplied for people who face other forms of discrimination on top of sexism. This includes women who identify as Indigenous, Black, and living with disabilities, among others. They are “doubly targeted.” Online hate doesn’t only affect individuals. It hurts communities as a whole, too. There is a cumulative harmful effect for women, girls, and gender-diverse people as a group (Canadian Women’s Foundation, 2019).

Women and gender-diverse people can face physical jeopardy when their location or other personal information is shared without consent online (United Nations 2018).

A survey of Ontario students grades 7 to 12 girls who spent more time on social media were more likely to report that they had thoughts of suicide. Sixty-one per cent of girls who used social media for more than five hours a day reported moderate to serious psychological distress, while only 33% boys reported feeling the same way (Boak et al., 2017).

“Evidence from a variety of cross-sectional, longitudinal and empirical studies implicate smartphone and social media use in the increase in mental distress, self-injurious behaviour and suicidality among youth; there is a dose–response relationship, and the effects appear to be greatest among girls. Social media can affect adolescents’ self-view and interpersonal relationships through social comparison and negative interactions, including cyberbullying; moreover, social media content often involves normalization and even promotion of self-harm and suicidality among youth” (Abi-Jaoude et al., 2020).

A global survey found that, as a result of online abuse and harassment, 24% of girls surveyed felt physically unsafe; 42% felt mentally/ emotionally distressed; 42% experienced a loss of self-confidence; 18% experienced problems at school; 7% had difficulty finding and keeping a job; 19% used social media less frequently; and 12% stopped using social media altogether (Plan International, 2020).

In response to higher risk of cybervictimization, “almost one-third (31%) of women aged 18 to 29 years blocked someone because of harassment, and 17% restricted their own access. A smaller proportion of men did the same, with 13% blocking people and 10% limiting their access” (Statistics Canada, 2023).

“New polling data shows that women (84%) and 2SLGBTQIA+ people (87%) take more actions to feel safe from online hate and abuse compared to men (77%). Still, only 18% of women, 10% of 2SLGBTQIA+ people, and 23% of men strongly agree that they feel safe online” (Canadian Women’s Foundation, 2023).

“Just speaking out – regardless of being a private individual or public figure – about certain issues online, often when related to feminism, gender equality, sexual abuse or specific aspects of women’s rights, such as sexual and reproductive health and rights, may be a trigger for violence and abuse” (Commissioner for Human Rights, Council of Europe, 2022).

Women and girls who write or speak about women’s issues online face increased exposure to online abuse (Standing Committee on the Status of Women, 2017; Plan International, 2020).

The vitriol in online spaces can “lead to women and gender diverse people being silenced in the public sphere due to fear of being targeted by online hate.” Anonymity in these spaces may embolden people to promote views and behave in manners that they otherwise would not in person (Government of Canada, 2022).

Almost one-third of people in Canada are hesitant about using social media or taking part in online discussions due to harassment concerns (Canadian Internet Registration Authority, 2019).

“10% of Canadians reported being targets of online hate speech, and 8% said they were targets of online harassment that caused them to fear for their safety; these proportions were approximately twice as high among Canadians who are racialized, have a disability or identify as LBGTQ2S+ (Andrey, 2023).”

US data shows that women are more than twice as likely as men to report feeling extremely upset after their most recent experience of online harassment (Vogels, 2021).

This behaviour is rooted in common stereotypes about gender and sexuality and in societal sexism, misogyny, cisnormativity, and heteronormativity. Perpetrators of gendered digital hate, harassment, and violence are often motivated by power and the desire to dominate. They use digital tools to enforce “gender norms, oppress women, and keep men ‘in the box’” (Moloney, 2018).

“… perpetrators of online gender-based violence against women generally have a male identity … These aggressors may be persons who are unknown to the victim (such as an online sexual harasser who systematically targets several women, or individuals who engage in grooming), a member of the victim’s family or professional circle, or even a friend. … The goal of violence is to create a hostile online environment for women in order to shame, intimidate, denigrate, belittle, or silence them by means of surveillance, theft or manipulation of information, or control of their communication channels” (Organization of American States).

“Increasing internet access has enabled greater community connectivity; however, it has also increased online hate and violence that promotes online gender-based violence against women. In response to the rise of the feminist movement, several misogynist and anti-feminist groups have emerged. One such group is involuntary celibates, also known as incels, who believe that a lack of sexual intimacy granted by women is a form of oppression against men. Incels rally around shared misogynistic sentiments that project ideas of violence against women. While not all incels are necessarily violent, incels have enacted mass violence against women in Canada” (Chan, 2022).

“The manosphere is a loose collection of movements marked by their overt and extreme misogyny. Groups include ‘Incels’, Men Go Their Own Way (MGTOW) and men’s rights activists (MRAs) … These groups are largely situated online, and are marked by a unique lexicon which they use to describe women, sex, and other men. They are explicit in their rejection of feminism which they believe has come to dominate society at the expense of men.” (Davey et al., 2020).

An analysis of incel violence in Canada found: online incel communities provide an opportunity for at-risk individuals to be accepted by like-minded peers who articulate shared grievances through an ideological lens; the online incel ecosystem is spread across both mainstream and niche platforms; and interest in incel-related discourse is international (Moonshot, 2021).

A 2020 guide for practitioners on the incel community says, “Since 2009, individuals linked to the movement have been involved in at least 13 reported attacks in North America … There is some evidence that these individuals have a propensity for choosing targets where women congregate, such as: yoga studios, women’s fitness classes and erotic massage parlors … When attacks occur in more generic public spaces, Incel attackers still tend to specifically target women or romantic couples. Like many other violent extremists, Incel attackers tend to choose ‘low-tech’ and low-cost modes of attacks: shootings, stabbings and vehicular rammings. Individuals who associate with the Incel movement appear more likely than the general population to self-report anxiety, depression and other mood disorders” (Hastings and Stolte, 2020).

“Cases of incel-related violence have commonly been understood as isolated and separate from those related to organized violent extremism; they are known to be ‘lone-wolf actors’. However … it is the structural nature of online communities and the associated forms of social support that embolden incel actors. Online forums provide crucial support, motivation and ideas to incel actors to inspire acts of violence. The solidification of in-group identity is also central to incel-motivated violence; isolated and societally-deviant individuals foster a strong sense of collectivity and community loyalty” (Chan, 2023).

Exposure to hateful attitudes that promote an inferior social, political, and economic position for women escalates the risk that consumers of such content will adopt similar attitudes and act on them (Canadian Women’s Foundation, 2019). Research shows that men and boys with “violence-supportive beliefs and values” are more likely to engage in coercive and violent behaviour toward women (Flood and Pease, 2009).

“Academic studies have found that women who stand as candidates and politicians from around the world face frequent intimidation in the form of sexual, psychological, physical threats to their well-being, both in person and online … Violence against women in politics is part of the spectrum of gender-based violence that includes physical, psychological, economic and symbolic actions or threats against women that result in, or are intended to result in, harm or suffering against women simply because they are women. It is intersectional, as racialized minorities, members of the LGBTQ community, the poor, religious minorities, disabled persons, and younger women tend to experience violence in politics disproportionately based on their social identities and diverse characteristics” (Raney et al., 2019).

Violence against women in politics, referred to as VAW-P, includes physical, psychological, economic, and symbolic aspects. Symbolic violence “seeks to diminish/erase women’s presence in political office, such as the distribution of highly sexualized and/or violent images on social media.” VAW-P serves to frighten and deter politically active women from engaging in politics and communicates to the broader society that women do not belong in public life (Collier and Raney, 2018).

A global study of women journalists across 125 countries found that 73% experienced online violence. Threats of physical violence (identified by 25% of survey respondents) and sexual violence (identified by 18%) also plagued women interviewed. Thirteen per cent of survey respondents and many interviewees said they received threats of violence against those close to them, including children. “Racism, religious bigotry, sectarianism, ableism, homophobia, and transphobia intersect with misogyny and sexism to produce significantly heightened exposure and deeper impacts for women experiencing multiple forms of discrimination.” Black, Indigenous, Jewish, Arab, and lesbian women journalists experienced the highest rates and most severe impacts of online violence (Posetti et al., 2021).

“One in five women-identifying survey respondents said they had been attacked or abused offline in connection with online violence they had experienced. A similar proportion of the interviewees also experienced offline harassment associated with online attacks, including the subjects of both big data case studies. These offline attacks ranged from stalking to physical assault and legal harassment … Physical threats associated with online violence caused 13% of women survey respondents to increase their offline security. … Mental health impacts were the most frequently identified consequence of online attacks, indicated by 26% of the women survey respondents. 12% said they had sought medical or psychological help due to the effects of online violence, while a number of interviewees were suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) connected to online attacks, and many more were receiving therapy as a result of the attacks they had endured.” The story theme most often identified in association with increased attacks was gender (47%), followed by politics and elections (44%), and human rights and social policy (31%) (Posetti and Shabbir, 2022).

A survey of 115 women and gender non-conforming journalists in Canada and the US found: 85% of respondents believed journalists had become less safe in past five years; less than half (44%) had received safety training; online harassment was considered the biggest threat by 71% of respondents in Canada; over 70% experienced safety issues/threats in the, with verbal harassment, followed by online harassment, the most common types; and journalists across a range of beats received threats, but the harassment was more severe and sustained for those covering local or national politics or extremism (Westcott, 2019).

“Any journalist may encounter physical violence, but [female Indigenous Journalists] face different risks because of who they are and the stories they cover. Indigenous women and girls are twelve times more likely to be murdered or go missing than other women in Canada. More than half experience domestic violence. A journalism diploma is not a shield from these issues.” In addition, “with a few notable exceptions, newsrooms have impeded the advancement of FIJs’ careers and hindered our ability to make meaningful improvements to news coverage” (Pugliese, Journalists for Human Rights, 2020).

A study of women journalists in different countries found that online gendered harassment “disrupts the routinized practice of reciprocal journalism because it limits how much these women can interact with the audience in mutually beneficial ways without being attacked or undermined sexually. While experiences of harassment were consistent across the countries studied, cultural differences were evident in how much the journalists were expected to engage online” (Chen et al., 2018).

A study of social media influencers found they are frequently subjected to online harassment. “The primary form of harassment directed at influencers involves the use of insults and derogatory, humiliating, and repeated comments, which are often experienced on a daily or weekly basis.” A prominent online presence increases the risk of online harassment for certain professions, such as politicians, academics, and journalists, as well as professional content creators and highly-followed influencers. Men and women influencers faced similar rates of online harassment, but women reported more severe consequences (e.g. state of shock, economic impacts, financial losses) (Valenzuela-García et al., 2023).

Online attacks also affect women-serving organizations and community groups. They may be subject to online attacks that delegitimize and devalue their efforts (Canadian Women’s Foundation, 2019).

Research with leaders of 2SLGBTQIA+ organizations in Canada found that queerphobic online hate organizations faced included “comments on organizational social media pages, hate filled emails, statements made during virtual events, postings on public sites … as well as threats to escalate online hate to in-person violence.” It impacted mental health of staff and volunteers and affected the work they could do on behalf of their communities as time was consumed responding to it (Jonsson et al., 2023).

When online attacks happen to individual workers and advocates, they have little protection and are more likely to leave the space than face the abuse (Ging and Siapera, 2018).

Survivors of tech-facilitated gender-based violence can pursue different legal options through criminal law and civil litigation processes. Depending on where a survivor lives in Canada, they may be able to file a complaint with the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada, which enforces federal privacy laws (Women’s Legal Education and Action Fund, 2021).

Legislation and the legal system in Canada are still catching up to technology in holding perpetrators of digital hate, abuse, and harassment accountable. Legal processes are often inadequate. Those who have tried to seek court rulings for doxing, flaming, stalking, revenge porn or other forms of technology-assisted misogyny have often ended up facing increased threats and danger, not resolution and safety (Canadian Women’s Foundation, 2019).

Although Canadian law on domestic abuse, harassment, and serious invasion of privacy can be applied to online crime and illegal surveillance, there are inadequate legal remedies to respond to them (Khoo et al., 2019).

A review of criminal cases involving technology-facilitated violence in Canada found that courts were sometimes dismissive of the harm, deeming it not severe enough or overlooking how online and offline violence are an integrated whole. Some survivors were treated as more worthy of protection than others. Other cases put responsibility for the harm on the survivor, presuming they did not do enough to adequately “protect themselves”. Authors concluded that the legal system needs more survivor-centered outcomes (Bailey and Matthen, 2019).

Content moderation measures of platforms like social media networks, discussion forums, search engines, and video sharing websites “have been deficient in both design and application.” It has exacerbated harm to users most at risk of tech-facilitated gender-based violence, including historically marginalized groups. “For example, community standards on digital platforms have included exceptions to rules prohibiting hateful or harmful speech. This has created major loopholes for demonstrably hateful or harmful content to proliferate. Flagging and reporting mechanisms rely on users using them accurately and in good faith, but have often been gamed to further the abuse such mechanisms are meant to address” (Khoo, 2021).

“Platform policies lack a coherent definition of ‘targeted harassment,’ meaning much of the abuse women face is not violative of platforms’ terms of service, leaving abusers to continue their activities without facing consequences. There is also a lack of intersectional expertise in content moderation, which results in abuse toward women, people of color (POC), and other marginalized communities going unaddressed. Targets bear the onus of detection and reporting. Managing an onslaught of abuse on social media requires time to block, report, and mute abusers. These burdens are discounted and affect their daily lives offline” (Jankowicz et al., 2021).

“Eighty-eight per cent of people in Canada believe we need to make changes so online spaces are safer for everyone — 58% of women strongly agree with this idea. Likewise, 88% believe it is the responsibility of social media companies to keep users safe from hate and abuse on their platforms” (Canadian Women’s Foundation, 2023).

Last Update: January 4, 2024

Data Snapshot

1 in 5
women experience online harassment in Canada

of Indigenous women experience unwanted behaviour online

of women and gender-diverse people aged 16 to 30 are personally targeted by online hate speech

increase in hate crimes since 2019, which is due to increased hate in digital spaces against women, 2SLGBTQIA+ people, and targeted ethnic and religious groups

of people in Canada believe we need to make changes so online spaces are safer for everyone

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