Participation Inequality: Women and Online Comments

By | March 30, 2017

Online comments sections are our modern day venues for collaboration, for public discourse, for democratic deliberation. The internet was supposed to even the playing field for participation.
 But for many women, wading into the incivility of online comments or social media exchanges is like walking alone down a scary back alley, or into an angry mob with torches and pitchforks. Why put yourself at risk?

The harassment that happens in online comments section is a form of the “heckler’s veto.” It keeps many female speakers from publicly expressing their views. This threatens to chill digital public discourse by discouraging half the citizenry from participating at all.

Women should chime in. How can we do this safely, bravely and regularly?

Here are slides from a thoughtful Women’s History Month discussion I moderated at the Hartford Public Library with columnist/author Susan Campbell and UConn student organizer Haddiyyah Ali about women’s voices in online comments.

Click on the ⚙ icon to view my speaker notes.

Studies/articles referenced, and other resources:

“[G]endered harassment — and the sheer volume of it — has severe implications for women’s status on the Internet. Threats of rape, death, and stalking can overpower our emotional bandwidth, take up our time, and cost us money through legal fees, online protection services, and missed wages.” – Amanda Hess,

– Online Harassment, Digital Abuse and Cyberstalking in America. November 2016. Data & Society Research Institute.

– Fiona Martin, “Getting my two cents worth in: Access, interaction, participation and social inclusion in online news commenting.” ISOJ Journal. Volume 6, Issue 1 Spring 2016.

– Emma Pierson, “Outnumbered but Well-Spoken: Female Commenters in the New York Times.” 2015. In Proceedings of the 18th ACM Conference on Computer Supported Cooperative Work & Social Computing (CSCW ’15). ACM, New York, NY, USA, 1201-1213.

– Erin E. Buckels, Paul D. Trapnell, Delroy L. Paulhus. “Trolls just want to have fun.” Personality and Individual Differences, Volume 67, September 2014, Pages 97-102.

Pew Research Center, Online Harassment study, 2014

The Dark Side of Guardian Comments

Refinery 29: Reclaim Your Domain

Online Misogyny is a Threat to Free Speech, Columbia Journalism Review

How to Deter Doxxing, Nieman Reports.

Women’s Media Center Speech Project

Why is UConn’s Mascot a Popular Rape Meme?


“When people get forced off the web, their voices disappear from the internet’s public squares. The ideas and memes that dominate skew even further toward a white male perspective. The web becomes less interesting, less representative, less valuable. We all lose.” –Andrew McMillen, “A young Wikipedia editor withstood a decade of online abuse. Now she’s fighting back — on Wikipedia itself.”

Flier from Hartford Public Library event on March 29, 2017. "We Belong Here, Too: Women's Voices in Online Comments"

Hartford Public Library event flyer: “We Belong Here, Too: Women’s Voices in Online Comments”

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