Online safety must be prioritised

Online safety must be prioritised

Date: October 4, 2017
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By Petronell Ngonyama and Tshwaresa Malatji

Johannesburg, 4 October: On 28 September, we celebrated the International Day for Universal Access to Information (IDUAI) under the theme Powering Sustainable Development with Access to Information.

Issues of access to information that can drive development need to also be discussed in the context of how women are safe in online spaces. The world is increasingly becoming one global and internet society stimulated by the growth in information and communication technologies.

Social media has especially proved to be the go to online platform especially for women’s rights advocates, who seek to challenge the status quo and ordinary women who seek access to a world they would not have ordinarily had access.

However, these opportunities have not come without a downside especially for women using the internet thus online safety is important.

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. Recent studies such as the South African Social Media Landscape 2016 study conducted by World Wide Worx and Fuseware reveals that there is an increasing number of users of social media platforms.  The report notes that in South Africa there are 13 million Facebook users, 7.4 million Twitter users, 8.28 million YouTube users and 2.68 million Instagram users.

In another survey conducted by Napoleon Cat,  the research shows that “There are 3.6M Instagram users in South Africa with women comprising 51% and 49 % men”.  This shows that women are beginning to claim these alternative spaces for information and communication. Therefore, cybersecurity should be taken into consideration so that women feel safe when using the platforms.

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 cyberbullying.

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 activities that take 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.

Furthermore, users 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. For instance the video of a young a girl Sesethu in South Africa, who shot a seductive video which went viral on social media meant so many other people saw her in a compromising situation which left a dent in her reputation online and offline and her dignity.

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. Technology is here to stay and as such, safety within these platforms must be a priority.

Tshwaresa Malatji and Petronell Ngonyama are media interns at Gender Links. This article is part of Gender Links News and Blogs


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