In an exclusive interview with The Independent, the ex-midfielder turned football pundit said trolls question her knowledge of the sport, telling her she knows “nothing about the game”.
The 39-year-old, who is England’s most capped player, said the online abuse is “definitely sexist” and gets worse and is “more aggressive” when she is reporting on men’s football rather than the women’s game.
“When I’m doing punditry in a women’s game, the percentages in terms of the abuse you get is really, really minimal compared to when as a female, I talk on the men’s game as a pundit,” Williams said. “The abuse heightens and it’s more aggressive, more direct. Definitely more abusive.”
The football commentator said she thought “jealousy” was “probably one of the main things” which drives people to perpetrate online abuse.
She said many people think trolls are people who you are “really close to”, adding: “You get trolled by people that you think are your friends and they are the ones that know the most about you.”
The former Lioness said she is able to cope with the online hate because she has a “thick skin”, but her ability to handle abuse could potentially change if the harassment were to ramp up.
The “daily” abuse suffered by footballers she used to play with who are now prominent in the media is “not acceptable”, she stated.
Ms Williams added: “I’ve seen a change in them as people because of social media – close friends that have really been affected by some of the awful abuse that they get online.”
She said: “If you are bombarded with abuse daily, at some point it will affect your mental health, whether you think you are strong headed or not.”
Ms Williams said: “As I said, I’m quite strong headed now, but there is nothing to say that if I was to be absolutely bombarded with abuse on a daily basis, that couldn’t change how I start to think and see myself.”
Her friends are targeted with “horrific abuse” for simply “having an opinion in a workplace that they are supposed to have an opinion in”, she added.
Discussing homophobic online abuse, she said: “I’m sure they’re aware that there are a lot of gay people within the women’s game, and it’s easy for them to drop a comment in.”
Ms Williams, a member of EE Hope United, a team of footballers committed to tackling online sexist hate, reflected on whether the abuse she endures would worsen if her punditry for men’s football ramps up.
"They could talk about the way I talk, the way I look, the way I sound,” she added. “Who I think I am.”
Ms Williams said she hoped abuse on social media would improve when the online safety bill is rolled out as a change in the law would make people “accountable” for their comments. The legislation, which aims to tackle hate speech, cyberbullying, and disinformation, is in its final stages in parliament and would see social media companies also held accountable for abuse published on their sites.
The ex-footballer attended a roundtable meeting at 10 Downing Street on Tuesday to demonstrate her backing for proposed changes to the online safety bill, which would boost the online protection of women and girls.
“For me, social media has become a fantasy world where you can do whatever you want and get away with it without any consequences,” Ms Williams said.
Turning her attention to the World Cup kiss saga, she said it was “disappointing” that it “took so long” to be dealt with.
Her comments come after the president of the Royal Spanish Football Federation Luis Rubiales has come under sustained criticism for kissing player Jenni Hermoso on the lips after Spain secured their 1-0 win over England last month.
Rubiales, who was also condemned for grabbing his crotch after Spain won the women’s world title for the first time in history, refused to step down over his behaviour but was suspended by Fifa. He eventually resigned as president on Sunday, after weeks of pressure, after Hermoso filed a legal complaint.
Jorge Vilda, head coach of Spain’s women’s team, was fired last week after he was among those who praised Rubiales’ refusal to step down.
“It’s the only thing that’s been spoken about when Spain were phenomenal in the World Cup and these women should be celebrated,” she added. “For me, it’s a celebration of their success and I think that’s been forgotten and the girls probably haven’t been able to celebrate.”
Discussing Rubiales, she said: “I think the right thing has been done now. He stepped away from it. He still hasn’t apologised.”