Combating online violence against politically-active women

19 Dec 2017 15:00h - 16:30h

Event report

[Read more session reports and live updates from the 12th Internet Governance Forum]

Ms Sandra Pepera, National Democratic Institute (NDI), the session’s organiser, said  that all violence should be stopped. However she pointed out that the violence against politically active women has further impacts. ‘It is an abuse of human rights, of civil and political rights, and it undermines democracy.’ She stated that the Internet has accelerated, amplified, and made permanent its impact while providing many perpetrators with the cloak of anonymity.  ‘…the absence of intrinsic DCic principles is failing many women who wish to be politically active around the world.”

Ms Seyi Akiwowo, Women’s Media Center, stated that online abuse is not a robust debate. It is about the intentional harassment of women to get them to leave the Internet, particularly social media, to modify their behaviour in order to please patriarchy and self-censorship. She emphasised that companies must do more to protect the rights of women in diverse groups to express themselves online. Online abuse and harassment is a new challenge to democratic digital inclusion and progress toward equality, as well as to making the information space have integrity. She concluded by saying that there is a responsibility on both women and men in politics to advocate on behalf of women and for the inclusion of women engaging in online spaces.

Mr David Kaye, UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, talked about the issue summarising it in three points:

  • Abuse, in particular online abuse against women, is different then other forms of abuse against ‘men certainly, but even minority communities’. He stated that there is a particular kind of attack that is offensive towards women and is often designed not only to push one particular person offline, but to push a community offline.  “… the rules need to be very clear and also be designed not to overregulate in the space.”
  • The online platforms need to provide autonomy to individual users. He explained that autonomy means there should be ways ‘in advance of, or in the face of’ abuse, as well as tools of autonomy that allow people to block abusive users, such as the ‘mass blocking’.
  • “we need to be ensuring that the steps we take are not designed to censor otherwise legitimate speech”. It is important generally to be careful. At the moment there is a need of in-depth research around this specific subject matter, the fuzzy line between abusive speech and free speech.

Kaye concluded by posing a question, as a ‘food for thought’: Should the norm be different or should we have two kinds of norms related to process against online abuse, and should there be a difference between abuse of public figures and abuse of public figures who are women? 

Ms Nighat Dad, Digital Rights Foundation, talked about the importance of the helplines, which she started in 2016. The report with the results of one year of work of the helpline will be presented tomorrow (20 December 2017) at the Internet Governance Forum. Dad stated that they have received over 1500 complaints and more then 300 were transferred to law enforcement. She said that nowadays it is clear that more and more companies also have their reporting mechanisms in place. ”They say it’s a global issue but actually it is not. People get treated differently in different jurisdictions.” She continued by saying that she herself faces threats on a daily basis, receiving them as private messages, on her social media timeline and they are mostly those of sexualised violence and body shaming, and a lot of them also are serious threats. ”People ask me: How dare you to talk about this? Technology is not for women. You’re ruining our culture and values.“

Mr. Nathan Matias, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Media Lab, talked about their research which showed that women’s participation in the decision is making changes in political discourse, is improving the relevance of public policy decisions, and is making peace more sustainable. He stated that the tech companies are secretive when it comes to their internal policies and trade, because a lot of privacy questions create barriers. Companies are therefore very protective of their research and data. ”We only see a trickle of the research they do.”

By Aida Mahmutovic