As an Ofcom report on UK internet habits says tech companies must do more to protect women online, writer and host Amy Nickell, 32, from Hertfordshire, shares her experience facing to a buildup of social media.

Leaving the Good Morning Britain studio, after a heated on-air debate about gender roles, I felt satisfied with how it had gone.

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Amy Nickell, pictured with her son Freddy, said: ‘In a terrible way I became desensitised’

I hadn’t said anything particularly noteworthy (or so I thought) in response to a theater group that had caused controversy by asking “female-identifying mothers” to help write a new play.

When I had suggested that men could be mothers – for example, a husband who had lost his wife, or a single parent – ​​I had managed to get presenter Piers Morgan out.

But I did not imagine what was going to burst.

As soon as I got in the car to go home and turned on my phone, it started sending out social media notifications.

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“You are a disgrace! »

“Who does this blond bird ‘Karen’ think she is?”

“F**k off my TV, you’re exactly what’s wrong with the world.”

What started as a trickle of comments quickly turned into hundreds, if not thousands, of abusive and often chilling posts by rabid strangers, all directed at me.

It was 2019 and I had never experienced any real backlash on social media before.

As a regular TV and radio commentator since launching my book Confessions Of A Single Mum in 2018, I was used to a flurry of comments on my platforms within an hour of appearances, but I I realized this one wasn’t gonna blow after a few minutes.

Instead, it was the start of a 24/7 campaign of abuse.

I was “insufferable”, “in denial”, “a fool”, “a beachhead”, “a stupid, stupid woman” and “vacant”, and I “should be locked away from the world”.

“You make me want to hang myself,” one person wrote, while others demanded that I “finish myself.”

As the hours passed, I was harassed on all my platforms, from Twitter and Instagram to my private Facebook page and even LinkedIn.

People have been researching my old high school and college degree. Some even told me my bra size and pondered the color of my pubic hair.

Suppose you imagine all the dark thoughts you’ve had about yourself, added to all the things you’d never want people to say behind your back – it’s probably close to the deluge of messages I received.

They figured out my email address and DMed me on Facebook, and that night I got a call on a cell phone from a complete stranger to tell me about the “bitch” I was.

I hung up and blocked the number before they could call me back.

“You make me want to hang myself,” one person wrote, while others demanded that I “finish myself.”

Amy Nickel

I don’t know how they found my number – it was terrifying and left me convinced that someone would be waiting outside my house every time I left the house and my car’s paint was locked.

At the time, I was living alone with my then six-year-old son Freddy, and I was worried people would recognize his school uniform from pictures on social media and find us when dropping off or picking up.

I was afraid the word had traveled to the school, and the teachers were snickering behind our backs.

I considered involving the police, but kept hoping it would subside.

After a few days I tried to leave my phone alone. I had replied to some of them, trying to reason with the arguments mixed with their insults, but it didn’t help – the notifications kept ringing. The attacks are linked: “Your breasts are more interesting than your comments”,

“You’re scary and sad, I’d hate to be in your sad head,” and “As a woman, you’re totally embarrassing and I can’t stand you.”

It was impossible to defend myself. I felt like I was strapped into a roller coaster with no idea where it was headed next.

Every morning I woke up to new reams of notifications, and it felt like that was my default now.

Probably the worst moment was realizing I had been parodied by an alt-right Canadian YouTuber, who took my clip internationally about a week after the show.

Now the comments were landing in huge multiples from the US and beyond as the clip racked up millions of views.

Today, those views stand at 2.5 million. I still don’t know why what I said caused so much hate.

After about a week it started to fade and I felt like I could breathe again, but even now three years later I still get nasty comments about that clip every time that he resurfaces.

In a terrible way, I became numb to it – we women are used to being told the unthinkable.

Amy Nickel

And the experience changed the way I use social media. I don’t post as much and think long and hard about whether what I’m about to say might provoke an attack.

I thought about deleting Twitter, but as a broadcaster, I rely on it for a lot of my news, even though I don’t watch YouTube comments anymore, because they’re usually the worst.

In my experience, the most persistent and demeaning messages all come from men.

And it is women – even those in jobs out of public view – who are most often the victims.

Recently, Ofcom surveyed 6,000 people for its Online Nation study, and 60% of women said trolling was a particular concern, compared to just 25% of men.

The survey also revealed that, although women spend more time online than men, they feel less able to express an opinion online.

Ofcom chief executive Melanie Dawes has warned of a “chilling effect” on women caused by trolling and hate speech.

She said: “Social media companies in particular need to take more action.

“They need to talk to women about their services, know what they think, give them the tools to report harm when they see it, and most importantly, show they are taking action when something is wrong.”

Indeed, women being stalked online have become so common that a Coronation Street storyline shows local councilor Maria Connor being abused by strangers on the internet.

I think there’s an idea that because I work in broadcasting, I’m fair game. I’m paid to give my opinion publicly, so I should expect to be stripped.

And in a terrible way, I became numb to it – we women are used to being told the unthinkable.

Sometimes I look suspiciously at passers-by, wondering if they have an outspoken online alter ego.

Amy Nickel

I have colleagues at GB News, where I am now a regular panelist, who are the subject of daily racist taunts, rapes and death threats – all for daring to voice an opinion.

The personal comments about my appearance are the ones that stab where it hurts, always managing to effortlessly hit the exact nerves needed.

“As for Amy Nickell, I wish they would get her fat, pasty legs and ankles covered. She personifies anything that can go wrong physically. Good advertisement for baggy pants,” one tweeter wrote after a recent appearance on GB News.

But the ones that sting are the posts that target my insecurities about being a single parent, like the tweet I received saying, “It’s no wonder Amy Nickell is divorced . I’m just surprised anyone would consider marrying her in the first place.

I started blocking out the worst ones, but oddly I prefer to have some awareness of what people are saying.

It definitely changed me.

I have now taken steps to lock down certain social media only for friends and family, such as Facebook. It made me paranoid.

If I grab someone’s attention for more than two seconds, I’m sure they saw me on TV and decided I’m a terrible person.

I have colleagues at GB News, where I am now a regular panelist, who are the subject of daily racist taunts, rapes and death threats – all for daring to voice an opinion.

Amy Nickel

Sometimes I look suspiciously at passers-by, wondering if they have an outspoken online alter ego.

It doesn’t make me want to stop doing what I’m doing, but it can make me doubt what I’m doing, and it worries my fiancé Jonathan, 42, a musician.

We met a year ago on the dating app Hinge, and her reaction to the comments reminded me how unnormal that communication is.

He also explained where these comments could lead and encourages me to take them seriously – seeing the potential dangers.

Amazingly, I even had distant relatives and a former lecturer recently jumped into threads of abusive comments about me. I did not answer.

We deserve to know the identities of the people sending these comments, and it’s frustrating that many continue to hide behind anonymous accounts.

Freedom of speech underpins democracy, but when someone sends persistent violent messages, they have to be dealt with.

The government’s new online safety bill, which aims to criminalize trolls, could be a step in the right direction, but the concern is that its subjectivity could lead to censorship.

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I welcome healthy disagreements, however, social media has given men a license to abuse women online without any repercussions.

We all miss this Wild West.

For help with any type of abuse, visit Mind.org.uk

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For help with any type of abuse, visit Mind.org.ukCredit: Getty Images