Internet De-Tox: A Fail-Proof Regimen to End Online Sexism

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Workshop 247

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[Read more session reports and updates from the 14th Internet Governance Forum]

The session explored the lack of a proper definition of hate speech, active punishment of women through laws for moral policing, and a lack of legislation and implementation to protect women and minorities.

Hypernationalistic patriarchal discourse is broadly present throughout the world. Mr Jai Vipra (IT for Change, India) stated there is no law that says sexist speech is hate speech. Ms Mariana Valente (Internetlab, Brazil) talked of Internetlab’s research, which pointed out escalated hate speech, specifically towards feminism, that is supported by the social and political normalisation of misogyny. Criminal harassment cases were found to be mostly filed by men against women for defamation for being called sexist.

Examples from the African continent highlighted by Ms Nanjira Sambuli (Researcher and analyst, Web Foundation) showed that implementation of legislation is questionable regarding whether it actually protects women. Uganda’s Computer Misuse Act is the only act related to hate speech, and has a lot of vague, subjective wording such as ‘indecent’. An anti-pornography law was also passed in Uganda, where most cases punish women for images shared online without their consent. Sambuli also pointed out the problematic use of algorithms to filter content. For example, Facebook only uses seven of the languages spoken on the African continent where there are more than 3000 languages in use. She also mentioned how community standards for Facebook are governed by Facebook itself, dictating what is considered as proper content without including the context of the space it is applied to. Nigeria, on the other hand has regulation on hate speech with the penalty of death or life sentences.

A growing gender backlash has been noted by the Council of Europe (CoE). The CoE developed several legal documents, including the CoE code of conduct on countering hate speech online, according to Mr Christophe Speckbacher (Programme Manager, Gender Equality Division, Council of Europe). The document includes a call for operators to take proactive measures for reporting procedures and new offenses were included in legal frameworks. He pointed out the need for continuous work on developing appropriate language to update the framework to include new forms of harassment such as online stalking, cyber harassment, doxxing and so on. This binding document applies to member states, which have two to three years to implement changes in laws. These changes should reflect the new legislation from the CoE, while adapting the broader definitions to their local contexts. The CoE example resonated with speakers who agreed that it is necessary to first develop terminology and broader legal categories, while it is equally important to localise them.

The speakers addressed the issue of education in light of internalised patriarchal models and a backlash toward feminism. Speckbacher pointed out that policies should include a gender perspective and should be developed to include men in the conversation, for the representation of feminism to change. Regarding feminism being weaponised, Valente referred to an interview with Patricia Hill Collins, a US academic specialist in race, class, and gender. Collins was quoted saying that the solution for language is to get to the core values, and if new words are needed to reach an understanding, that should also be acceptable. Vipra mentioned practices such as resisting through counter-speech, and readdressing existing environments with creative use of defamation laws.

Some of the key take-aways were: (a) the importance of aligning legal frameworks to implementations, and (b) how various human rights, such as freedom of expression, tend to be formulated around men’s freedom and rights. The inadequacies of punitive frameworks have also been shown to punish women and minorities rather than men. Regarding safe spaces and expression, private spaces have historically been seen as spaces where women belong, but defined by privacy concepts developed by men.

By Darija Medić

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