Whose (on)line is it anyway?

Whose (on)line is it anyway?


Date: November 30, 2017
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By Tarisai Nyamweda

Johannesburg, 30 November: Misogyny and abuse, crude insults, sexual harassment, trolling, ridicule the list goes on are some of the forms of violence women face as they try to participate in dialogue, debate and make their voices and presence count online. As we celebrate 16 Days of activism issues of online safety need to brought to the spotlight.

We are increasingly becoming an online citizenry. However as we participate in online spaces questions arise on how safe women and girls who participate online are. The world is  becoming one global and internet society but why is women’s participation hindered by violence in a space which has brought an alternative for women participation

Social media has especially proved to be the go to platform  for many women and women’s rights organisations who seek to challenge the status quo ,raise their voices and  who seek to access to a world they would not have ordinarily had access.Women  are beginning to claim these alternative spaces for information and communication.

However, these opportunities have not come without a downside especially for women using the internet thus online safety is important. Just last month women the world over joined in a #WomenBoycottTwitter movement against treatment of women on social media platform

Recent research by Amnesty International shows that women are continuously facing violence online. “It reveals the alarming impact that abuse and harassment on social media are having on women, with women around the world reporting stress, anxiety, or panic attacks as a result of these harmful online experiences.”

Online spaces are difficult platforms to monitor and track meaning many people get away with perpetuating hate and violence against others while hiding under the veil of anonymity in online spheres.

Although online spheres have strengthened freedom of speech and access to information this should not be at the expense of other people’s dignity, safety, privacy and freedom to participate.

While there are many women using platforms like Facebook compared to men more women also often face a lot of sexual harassment, intimidation, and even cyber stalking. The offline violence that women face on a day-to-day basis has transcended into online spaces. Children who are also very active users of these platforms also face a lot of harassment and cyber bullying.

Through this kind of a conduct, women tend to self-censor and even withdraw from participation on these platforms resulting in the silencing of their voices. This then further widens the gender gap in participation, voice, access and even control of debate and dialogue that takes place in online spheres

Young women and children need to be able to feel safe in these spaces which are alternative spaces of communication that have given them dual roles to generate disseminate and consume information and ideas critical to democratic participation.

Big technology companies have a responsibility of ensuring that as they bring these social media spaces to citizen’s women and children who are the most vulnerable in our society are equipped with the knowledge on how to navigate and be informed and responsible digital citizens. It is the user’s responsibility to know what to post and consume online.

As online citizens we must also report abusive and inappropriate content instead of helping this content go notoriously viral. Further sharing of these images, text and videos that are undesirable re-victimise the victim.

Community standards put in place by these institutions should encourage non-violent behaviour that permits for the right to privacy and ensures peaceful deliberations and co- existence amongst digital citizens.

Online safety and security must be a collective responsibility to respond to challenges faced online. Our governments, civil society, consumers and technology companies need to work together in drafting Information and Communication Technology Policies and strategies that safeguard the existence of citizens online and curb the spread of the technology related violence.

Let us take back the technology and use it for the better good of our communities and above all for the benefit of empowering women and girls in a safe online environment .

Tarisai Nyamweda is the Media Coordinator at Gender Links. This story is part of the Sixteen Days News and blogs series

 


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