This persona set has been developed to support women's rights groups, policymakers and regulators, and the world’s largest social media companies to co-create policy and product solutions to mitigate OGBV.
They are based on evidence from the Web Foundation’s series of multi-stakeholder consultations on OGBV. They aim to reflect the experiences of highly visible women online from around the world, whilst recognising that no set of personas can fully capture the complexities of those experiences, specific identities or contexts.
Trigger warning: please note that these personas contain references to experiences of OGBV and abuse including threats of sexual violence.
Threats of sexual violence
About YvonneYvonne is a Black female politician based in the UK. She is a Member of Parliament and a lawmaker with a long history of commitment to equality and social justice. She is dedicated to advocating for the rights of underrepresented groups and has campaigned vocally on a number of issues including institutional racism, women’s rights and policing.
As well as being an MP, Yvonne is an influential leader both locally and nationally. As one of a very small number of Black female MPs, she is a role model for many younger Black women. She is a regular guest on mainstream news programmes where she provides commentary on social justice issues.
ContentYvonne posts her latest speeches, blog posts and parliamentary debates on her own website. Her comments on public affairs and legislation are also published by online news outlets. She shares this content as well as news commentary on Facebook and Twitter.
OGBV ExperiencesYvonne experiences large volumes of abuse across platforms. This has eroded her confidence and makes her think twice before she posts, although she is resolute and determined not to step away from her role as a politician as a result of the abuse.
The abuse often focuses on personal characteristics including Yvonne’s gender, race and physical appearance, as well as a perceived lack of competence. It includes derogatory sexual or sexist comments, racist comments and combinations of these. She also receives threats of physical and sexual violence. Sometimes, when she has spoken out about a current issue she'll receive anywhere from dozens to hundreds of abusive messages within a short time frame. This is especially the case if her name trends on social platforms.
She has tried blocking abusive accounts, but finds perpetrators quickly create new accounts. She has tried muting accounts but fears she will miss threats of violence that she would escalate to the police.
The abuse she receives impacts Yvonne’s willingness to encourage young Black women to get into politics. It has sometimes moved into in-person interactions, and measures she and her team have needed to take to protect themselves from physical violence include shutting down the office, creating a safe room, installing security alarms, wearing stab vests, and walking with a panic alarm. She has reported online harassment both to platforms and the police, and in a few cases this has led to arrests and court cases.
Gender and identity-based attacks
About MounaMouna is a human rights and LGBTQ+ activist, dedicated to advancing the rights of marginalised communities. They also work for a human rights NGO that aims to fight discrimination.
VisibilityThe NGO Mouna works for gives them additional credibility and visibility online and often amplifies their public posts. Their largest personal following is on Instagram, then Twitter. They use a private Facebook profile for communicating with friends and family.
OGBV ExperiencesMouna’s experience of online abuse has been infuriating and overwhelming. YouTube videos of them attending protests have been repeatedly posted on the platform without them knowing. This results in abusive comments that often refer to their gender identity, and/or attempt to discredit them and the NGO they work for. Mouna proactively monitors YouTube and other platforms for safety reasons to see if their name has been mentioned, or if they have been tagged. The abuse is even worse when links to the videos are shared on other social media platforms. This feels especially out of control because they’re not the person posting the videos that set off the abuse in the comments below the content.
ImpactSometimes Mouna wants to abandon social media altogether, but feels this would let down other activists. They are struggling to balance their safety with their commitment to the causes they are passionate about, and are worried about the impact the abuse may have on their NGO’s credibility. Fear of being identified in videos makes them cautious to take part in protests, particularly as other activists they know have been arrested after being ‘outed’ by perpetrators of abuse.
Body positivity influencer
Body and fat-shaming language
About AmyAmy is an Asian-American body positivity influencer who was motivated to speak out about body shaming and bullying after her own experiences in school. She advocates for fat acceptance and good mental health and is outspoken in challenging cultural stereotypes about Asian women.
Amy is well recognised and has been listed in several mainstream magazines’ lists of body positive influencers to follow. She has been interviewed several times by mainstream news outlets, and gave a popular TED talk which has been viewed more than 50k times.
ContentAmy creates Instagram messaging around body positivity, inclusion, equality, mental health and community building. She posts images and videos of herself with reflective and motivating comments. She is unapologetic about who she is and what she looks like.
Amy experiences a broad range of hurtful and abusive messages in her comments and replies, from diet advice and ‘concerns’ about her health, to multiple abusers saying ‘go kill yourself’. The abuse targets all aspects of her identity, and is increasingly racist and xenophobic, particularly in the last year, which has seen a surge in anti-Asian racism online. She has developed some practical strategies for dealing with the situation such as blocking and muting accounts, but cannot always manage the comments she gets. She is concerned about her audience - often younger Asian-American women - having to see the abusive ones.
The harassment has significant impacts on Amy’s mental health and wellbeing. She has had to seek therapy to deal with the trauma of the abuse and questions whether she should just delete her account. She feels frustrated that receiving and managing abuse is part of her role as an influencer, and often finds it drains her energy and motivation.
Her confidence has decreased drastically at times as a result of the abuse, but she also feels a connection to many of her followers, who send messages of support and appreciation. She wants to continue to engage her audience by creating content that is helpful for them. This is how she earns a living, and having to step back because of abuse would have a huge economic impact.
About PaulaPaula is a University student in Brazil, who spends a lot of time online, especially on Tik Tok. She enjoys watching everything from viral dance videos, to life hacks, to tarot readings. She has always loved social media, but recently experienced a lot of harassment for the first time after a video she posted about consent went viral. This left her feeling empowered and terrified at the same time, as she didn’t know how to control the narrative or how to respond to and manage what was happening.
Paula had a small following of a few hundred friends and acquaintances, but since she went viral she has found herself with 2k+ followers on Tik Tok and Instagram, many of whom she doesn’t know.
ContentAfter a bad personal experience on a date, Paula created a short video about consent. She posted it to raise awareness, and expected a few of her friends to see it, but it went viral, with 100,000 views within 24 hours, and 1 million views within 3 days. She only posted the video on one platform but it was saved and uploaded to other platforms, including some that she does not have an account for, where it went viral again.
OGBV ExperiencesIdentity-based abuse, bullying
When her video went viral, Paula felt completely overwhelmed by the response. Dozens of people were commenting that they felt empowered by what she posted. At the same time, she was receiving loads of hateful comments which were upsetting and made her question herself and what she had posted. These comments were degrading and blamed Paula for her experience, and sometimes referred to her appearance. She also received some hurtful video responses which made fun of her original video.
Paula was initially not sure how to report the abuse. She thought she figured it out, but hasn’t heard from the platform since. She was upset that she had to spend more time working out how to respond than it took her to create the original video. The video had been shared, saved and re-uploaded in so many ways that deleting it didn’t seem like it would stop the abuse.
Paula's experience felt like a wake up call in that she realised she needed to change her privacy and security settings and learn how to report abuse. She started doing some research and read other people experiencing harassment on the platform. This made her feel part of a new community of people who have been through the experience, but she also felt more nervous about expressing her opinions and calling out bad behaviour.
Karishma is a freelance journalist based in India, a couple of years into her career after a change of path. She has recently written for a couple of big outlets, and is hoping to get a full time job for economic stability.
Karishma relies on social media to build a public profile, gain an audience and get paid work. She also uses it for conducting research, connecting with sources, keeping up with breaking news, and promoting and publishing her writing. She is conscious that employers will assess her social accounts and take her follower numbers into consideration. Her professional and personal identities feel very intertwined, and she sometimes struggles to draw boundaries around these aspects of her life.
Karishma has built a strong following on Twitter, and is experimenting with using Tik Tok and Instagram. She tends to get the most visibility when she writes for a larger outlet, but the wider reach of these outlets also means it's when she receives the most abuse for her work.
ContentShe writes thoughtful opinion pieces that touch on caste discrimination, sexism, and other political/social inequalities. She writes in Hindi, English and another local dialect. She uses Twitter to appeal to a broader audience, tweeting multiple times daily about current issues, and linking to articles she or other journalists have written. She has started using Tik Tok to post short form daily briefs on the news and creates easy to follow videos tackling thorny political issues for a younger audience.
Karishma receives abusive replies when she posts on social media platforms. She is concerned about continuing to speak about certain topics, especially as she has witnessed more established journalists experiencing threats of violence and knows a colleague who had their home address published on a social media platform.
She finds reporting the abuse exhausting and that the options she’s given when making a report don’t usually reflect her experience. In some cases the abuse may not make sense to a moderator unless they understand local cultural and political events. This is even worse when she has to translate comments from local dialects, where nuance is often lost. She has lost faith in the reporting process.
ImpactKarishma’s experience of online abuse is impacting her potential career progression, as it is causing her to consider whether her chosen career change was worth it. Worries about the abuse have made it difficult to sleep, which then impacts her ability to write. The psychological impacts are multiple - she has started second guessing stories and topics, which undermines her sense of self.