Some women shared the messages they get on Instagram. It’s not pretty.

Women on Instagram are exposed to an “epidemic of misogynist abuse,” according to a new report.

The Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH), a nonprofit focused on online hate and misinformation, worked with five high-profile women, including actor Amber Heard, to analyze more than 8,717 direct messages the women received.

The report charges Instagram with failing to address reports of abuse and the fundamental struggles that high-profile women on the platform face when it comes to using Instagram’s safety tools.

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High-profile women on Instagram face ‘epidemic of misogynist abuse’, study finds
A new report analyzing thousands of direct messages sent to high profile women on Instagram has uncovered what researchers describe as “systemic” failures to protect women in the public eye from “misogynist harassment”.

The report, released by the Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH), analyzed thousands of messages sent to five well known Instagram users: including actor Amber Heard, UK television presenter Rachel Riley, activist Jamie Klingler, journalist Bryony Gordon, and magazine founder Sharan Dhaliwal.

Researchers examined a cache of 8,717 messages from the women who participated and say they uncovered a wave of misogynistic abuse, pointing to various ways in which Instagram, owned by Meta, has been “negligent” in addressing the problem.

Instagram: Presenter Rachel Riley received series of porn messages
A television presenter was sent 31 videos of a penis by a single man on Instagram direct messages (DMs).

Rachel Riley, who co-presents Countdown, said knowing that people have sent her these “turns my stomach”.

The DMs were uncovered by disinformation researchers the Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH).

Instagram, owned by Meta, said the platform offers a way to filter abusive messages so that users do not have to see them.

DM abuse: Instagram ‘negligent’ over misogynist harassment of women in the public eye, study finds. [news release]
With the participation of five women in the public eye, the Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH) has exposed an “epidemic of misogynist abuse” sent via Instagram Direct Messages (DMs), 90% of which is ignored by the platform despite being reported to moderators.

The women who participated in the Hidden Hate study, to be published on Wednesday, are:

  • Amber Heard, actor and UN Human Rights Champion
  • Rachel Riley, broadcaster and CCDH ambassador
  • Jamie Klingler, co-founder of Reclaim These Streets
  • Bryony Gordon, award-winning journalist and mental health campaigner
  • Sharan Dhaliwal, founder of UK South Asian culture magazine Burnt Roti

Working with access to participants’ DMs, researchers logged abuse sent by 253 accounts and reported them using the Instagram app or website. An audit of abusive accounts revealed that 227 remained active at least a month after these reports were filed, representing Instagram’s failure to act on 89.5% of reports sent to its moderators.

This finding is particularly concerning given that CCDH’s research suggests half of abusive users go on to send further abusive messages when platforms fail to remove them.

Instagram also allowed 9 in 10 abusers who sent violent threats to our participants to remain online, even after they were reported to Instagram using the platform’s own tools.

How Instagram fails to act on 9 in 10 reports of misogyny in DMs [report]

Our Research: We conducted several case studies in partnership with women with large Instagram followings to reveal how Meta, in its continued negligence and disregard for the people using its platforms whilst churning record profits, has created an environment where abuse and harmful content is allowed to thrive. This denies those being abused the ability to freely express themselves online.

After reporting on public gender-based violence and misogynistic abuse through posts directed at high-profile women, CCDH researchers have turned to an under-studied and even more unregulated facet of online abuse: the direct message (DM). This report uncovers the side of Instagram that is often unseen, but more often experienced first-hand by women who use social media: how harassment, violent threats, image-based sexual abuse can be sent by strangers, at any time and in large volumes, directly into your DMs without consent and platforms do nothing to stop it.

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