The Special Rapporteurs for freedom of expression and violence against women issued a common statement on the International Women’s Day on the 8th of March 2017. In the statement they called for action from governments, companies and civil society organisations to tackle online gender-based abuse and violence, emphasising that such action needed to take place with respect to fundamental rights such a freedom of expression.
Reports and studies show that acts that could be considered online abuse affects women disproportionately. Further, certain form of abuse, like revenge porn, is directed in vast majority towards women (Citron, 2014.) Privacy International has raised concerns that issues of privacy in the online context are sufficiently dealt with on a gender specific basis, as a number of reports indicate that abusive ways to use technology affect women differently then men.
The title of this post is from a piece posted by Milo Yiannopoulos on the website Breitbart in June 2016. In that, he discusses how women are “ screwing up the internet for men by invading every space [they] have online and ruining it with attention-seeking and a needy, demanding, touchy-feely form of modern feminism that quickly comes into conflict with men’s natural tendency to be boisterous, confrontational and delightfully autistic.” This claim builds on a notion that the internet is a place by men for men. With respect to the makers of the internet being male, there is some truth to this statement. The founding fathers of the modern day internet were mainly male. (Goldsmith and Wu, 2006.) Further, the funding for the initial projects came from the traditionally masculine institution of the military forces, and statistics indicate that technology remains a male dominated industry. But this seems a far cry from the vision set out in the 1996 Declaration of Independence in Cyberspace that claimed that cyberspace was a place “where anyone, anywhere may express his or her beliefs, no matter how singular, without fear of being coerced into silence or conformity.” In fact, there are indications that cyberspace was intended to be a place for everyone to be as they wanted, unrestrained by the structures that ruled the offline world. It was to be somewhere where the body and traditional structures were not of value, and where speech and thought ruled, not faces and embodiment. (Mary Ann Franks, 2015.)
How did we get from there to the current state of affairs, where the reports indicate such amounts of abuse against women online, that international offices deem it fit to call all relevant stakeholders to action in order to respond to it?
In this context the multi stakeholder approach offered by the UN special rapporteurs seems most likely to succeed. Despite various domestic efforts, important steps taken by private entities, and the alertness of the issue in the international and regional cooperative frameworks, the increasingly visible gender imbalance in the digital sphere needs to be addressed in a firm and swift manner. The option is to acknowledge the internet as a man´s world and that it is timely for women to indeed just log off.
Milo Yiannopoulos. Breitbart. 15 June 2016. http://www.breitbart.com/milo/2016/07/05/solution-online-harassment-simple-women-log-off/
María Rún BjarnadóttirM.Bjarnadottir@sussex.ac.uk