Solutions for countering online abuse against women

8 Dec 2016 13:00h - 14:30h

Event report

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The workshop focused the discussion on solutions to counter online abuse and hate, directed to women and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) groups.

The group discussions centred in these questions:

  • What role does it play in your personal and professional life?
  • What kind of speech is abuse and harassment?
  • What do you face?

Ms Serene Lim, Empower, Malaysia, said that she realised that online abuse is a barrier for women to get full access to the benefits brought by the Internet.  She considered that abuse, harassment, and violence against women is a culture constant. She said that Muslim women have no choice but to move to the online space where they can actually explore their identities, understand the interpretations of the Koran in terms of gender relations and not the traditional hierarchy. We see abuse and harassment in this space as well. Another concern that we have is social surveillance as women. Social media has become a space of hyper-visibility, everything you do on social media is no longer private. Lim stated that this set of vulnerabilities is undesirable, because they comes with harassment, stalking, threats, loss of job opportunity and constant public humiliations.
She said there is a culture of impunity that is brutal and cruel.

Erika (full name inaudible), one of the speakers, stated in her presentation that this problem also affects other people, who are not women, like the LGBT community. According to the best practice forum (BFP) report last year, all those who have a different perspective suffer this type of violence.
She mentioned the report stated that it is important to have governmental and technical solutions, and if it is done without consulting the people affected, they will not be good technical solutions. We know about bad solutions that are surveillance weapons for us, meant to protect us. Other highlighted point of the BPF was the importance to look at legislation, not just criminalisation as a solution.
She said legislation would take a long time, and we know about the impunity in so many countries. She asked, what other options do we have? What kind of support is out there for the people that we are worried about. We see what is happening and we want to know what we can do to help.

For the group work, the moderator divided the participants into four stakeholder groups: activists, techies, lawyers and journalists.

The groups offered the following solutions to counter online abuse and hate:

  1. Cyberspace should be made use of and online abuse countered. Women, in general, need to be more aware, have their privacy kept, and have a safe space to learn and interchange ideas.
    Some form of authentication is needed on these sites. Capacity building or working with service providers to provide some authentication schemes.
    No to censorship and over-regulating.
  2. Having cyber laws and accountability for social media corporations. It is important to have community solidarity and to engage community mechanism among each other.
    Maybe having a list of collectives, people, or organisations that you can approach when you are going trolled or harassed.
    Another used but debatable tactic would be naming and shaming for repeat offenders.
    As long-term solutions, to have more education, awareness, and cultural civility. It is very important to have more women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), in leadership positions, in decision-making positions and in the designing of technology.
  3. Social media needs to be made safer for everyone.
    About facial recognition, when a picture is posted in the Internet, the picture’s owner should have the possibility of taking that picture down.
    To make optimal use of cyberspace and counter online abuse, people defending women’s rights need a way to receive support from a caring and committed online community.
  4. Women and at-risk groups need safe spaces online to interact with allies to counter the abuse, because fighting alone will not solve the problem.
    To count on groups who can create spaces to share positive examples where people have successfully fought online abuse and also local initiatives so that people know that there is support out there.
  5. To counter abuse against women and LGBT people, we need a way to seek justice for crimes committed to these people, without their moral characters being called into question or examined.
    One way to achieve this is by providing specific training directed at law enforcement and the judiciary.
  6. To make optimal use of cyberspace and counter this bullying, we need to get the schools to recognise the cyber-bullying problems and create spaces for solutions.
    Offline education is needed to get more people to recognise the seriousness of the problem.

Mr Sadaf Habib, CODE, Pakistan, talked about their work in digital development and leveraging tech and digital tools for civic and social good. He spoke about the app designed by CODE for reporting abuses.

The workshop concluded with Japlin (full name inaudible), from New Delhi, who presented some research results indicating that, from 500 women surveyed in India, more than 50% of them reported having being violated, abused, and harassed at some point in their lives.

Her recommendations in the way to combat online violence is not to go offline but to reclaim the online space.

by Wanda Pérez Pena, Internet Society Dominican Republic