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A new study claims that 50 percent of misogynistic tweets in the U.K. are sent by women.
Demos, “Britain’s leading cross-party think-tank,” conducted a study that tracked aggressive and abusive tweets sent over a three-week period. Specifically, it monitored the usage of the words “slut” and “whore” by U.K. Twitter users, but researchers separated the instances of those words being used in conversational and self-identifying ways from them being used derogatorily.
The results showed that 200,000 aggressive tweets using those terms were sent to 80,000 people worldwide over three weeks, and that half of the aggressors were women. In the U.K. alone, 6,500 such tweets were identified during the same period.
“In order to determine the context of use in these Tweets, we built three Natural Language Processing classifiers—essentially a method for training a computer to make a distinction which would traditionally only be possible for humans to make,” Josh Smith, an associate researcher at the Centre for the Analysis of Social Media at Demos, told the Daily Dot over email. “In practice, this involves a researcher reading and manually coding around 300 Tweets, which the classifier can use as a ‘test’ to see how accurate it is (i.e., how far it agrees with the human’s selection on each of those 300 cases.)”
The study builds on research Demos published in 2014, which found that just 18 percent of the uses of “slut” and “whore” were misogynistic, though more were classified as “casually misogynistic.” However, “women are as almost as likely as men to use the terms ‘slut’ and ‘whore’ on Twitter. Not only are women using these words, they are directing them at each other, both casually and offensively.”
The definition of “casual” usage is certainly not innocuous. In its rundown of the usage of “rape,” Demos used for a casual example “That was my famous rape face :) LOL Joke.” While the intent of the Twitter user may have been “casual,” that doesn’t preclude a tweet like that from being offensive to others. When it comes to abuse, women received abusive tweets using the words “slut” and “whore” in them 6.6 times a minute, so that’s fun.
Smith hopes that the studies are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to online abuse. “This is by no way an exhaustive study, and has raised a huge number of questions which will need further research to answer—who are the victims of this abuse, for example; and what effect does this language have on our behaviour online?” We’re also worried about what a U.S. study would show.