We all love the internet. I mean, it has made existence a lot more interesting. We can do a whole lot of things on the internet as feminists, from expressing our sexuality to building movements to sharing funny memes as self-care. The internet has however also created a space where women experience the most harm and violence specifically directed to them because of their gender. Queer people particularly experience this violence in disproportionate ways because often times, their sexuality and gender identity is invoked to humiliate, embarrass, silence, extort ,threaten or scare them. The Initiative for Equality and Non-Discrimination (INEND) in recognition of this convened this tweet chat as a necessary conversation to have on what online gender based violence looks like. This blog post will capture the insights arising from the tweet chat. The panellists began with a round of introductions about their work and interests and soon after the moderator, Nekesa, proceeded to ask the first question seeking to discuss the manifestation of online Gender-Based Violence. General responses pointed to the fact that online GBV may manifest in pseudo remarks, bashing and ignorant rhetoric without basis other than the fact that one is a woman. Additionally it was recognised that women experience violence online and are not even aware that they are experiencing violence. This largely spoke to the fact that online violence is not considered serious, is perceived as inconsequential, is not even perceived AT ALL in certain instances, and is considered trivial when compared to physical violence. It is however important to remember that as we challenge these myths and stereotypes about online GBV, we need to remember that violence is violence, no matter how it presents!
One of the panellists, Muthoni, further tweeted that the conversation around online GBV cannot be had without conversation on access to the internet. This raises the valid questions-who owns the internet? Who controls it? Who regulates it? Who is invited to make and deliberate on Data Protection laws? While quoting Mariwa Fredrick, Muthoni stated that in cases where a household had one mobile phone, it was generally the husband who would have the phone during the day, with his wife only having access in the evening when her husband was home from workthis profoundly makes access to the internet a cyber-safety issue.
The conversation also brought up the non-existence of a binary between online GBV and physical GBV. Online platforms are used to support offline violence on women, particularly with the upholding of stereotypical and harmful gender roles and Christian inspired hate speech. The moderator then asked about the safety of the internet- is it safe for queer people particularly. Ava, one of the panellists in response to this tweeted that the internet really is not safe because violence against women is exacerbated and magnified online because there are little to no repercussions, therefore leading to further harassment and silencing of women’s voices. This answer inspired the next question on whether there are remedies or ways in which women can be kept safe online.
In answering this question, Muthoni was keen to mention that protectionist narratives are not always good solutions for anything, particularly GBV. Protectionist narratives are completely neoliberal and do not particularly solve systemic problems. She mentioned legislations that have
been enacted to disproportionately affect women and queer people by restricting their freedom of speech and controlling the expression of their sexuality online.
The following suggestions were however given as cyber-safety best practices:
- Practicing online ethics, like asking for consent before tagging anyone in photos, or posting a video of them online.
- Following the general rules of online safety and set guidelines provided by different online platforms.
- Using multiple pseudo accounts for activist profiles if necessary. It was however mentioned that the use of pseudo accounts can only be a complementary action as it will not entirely protect you from the trauma related to the violence targeted to that pseudo account.
- Avoiding loopholes like geo-tagging tweets or photos.
- Blocking perpetrators of online GBV.
- Thinking about what you are about to share online and reflecting on whether your content may be harmful to a particular person or community.
- Investigating the source of your information before sharing it.
The conversation then moved to the role and complacency of data companies like Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram in enabling online GBV. It was recognised that these companies do not adequately protect their users from harassment. These companies that have had the audacity to consistently censor women’s bodies and control women’s sexualities need to do better and invoke their multiple resources to protect women from harassment. The Twitter Report Policy, for example, was mentioned to be highly problematic for its failure to oversee the implementation of that very policy. Mainstream media and news blogs were also called out for slut-shaming women in their news titles and presenting women as the embodiments of “moral” decay.
It is absolutely saddening that a lot of us have been victims of online GBV without even realizing it. We love that we can now call it by its real name and we can aggressively work towards making the internet safe for all women and queer people. The internet has been a space that offers and continues to offer temporal relief for queer people to just exist, meet partners and make sold friendships, we cannot allow the space to be eroded with homophobes and transphobes. We must reclaim this space by finding feminist ways for queer people to safely position themselves in online spaces away from stigmatization and violence. As INEND, we are forever committed to making the internet feminist, because when the internet is feminist, there will be zero violence- and we honestly can’t wait for THAT!