What Women Know About the Internet

These views are shaped by the reality that women experience the internet differently, just as the experience of walking down a dark alley, or even a busy street, is different for women than it is for men. One Pew study found that women are far more likely to be sexually harassed online and describe these interactions as extremely upsetting. The Department of Justice reports that about 75 percent of the victims of stalking and cyberstalking are women. And so women look over our shoulders online, just as we do in real life.

It isn’t just that real-life harassment also shows up online, it’s that the internet isn’t designed for women, even when the majority of users of some popular applications and platforms are women. In fact, some features of digital life have been constructed, intentionally or not, in ways that make women feel less safe.

For example, you can’t easily use Facebook’s WhatsApp messaging service without a phone number, which many women don’t want to share. Facebook’s chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg, has promised to build encrypted communication into all its platforms. Just as important is giving users the option to make their messages disappear, so that if a hostile ex somehow got into your phone there would be nothing to see.