Online Misogyny, Hate Speech & Scotland: Two Steps Forward & One Step Back?

Barker, Kim (2018). Online Misogyny, Hate Speech & Scotland: Two Steps Forward & One Step Back? Gender Studies and Policy Review, 11(2), article no. 105.



Online misogyny, comprising sexist hate speech, as well as gender-based abuse is a prevalent and widespread issue. Not only does this involve either image-based sexual abuses (such as so-called ‘rape porn’ or ‘revenge porn’) but now includes – frequently
– text-based abuses and text-based sexual abuse. Increasing numbers of women and girls are reporting that they have suffered abuse or misogyny on social media platforms in particular. This is a concerning trend given the way in which social media and online activities are entrenched in everyday life. Why is it that these spaces are essential for social interaction and participation but they remain fundamentally unfriendly – and perhaps even unsafe – spaces for women and girls?

Whilst there have been some soft initiatives at an international level aimed at considering the broader issue, and also at a European level, few direct law reforms have taken place. At a domestic level within Scotland (and the UK), there is a complex and piecemeal system of overlapping criminal law legislation which could be applicable to these issues – but which often fails to cover such abuses. Within the UK, Scotland is taking a different approach to tackling the issue of Online Violence Against Women (OVAW) – this includes the consideration of gender as a basis for hate based prejudices within the criminal law.

This paper will outline the current phenomenon of online abuse and briefly outline the legal situation within Scotland, before considering the limits of current laws for the regulation of sexist hate speech. The paper will conclude by offering concrete suggestions
on how to legislate and revise the relevant legal provisions, and offer some insights concerning Scottish reaction to the petition for law reform in this area. This is an area in need of pressing law reform – something which this paper will advocate for.

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