Throughout 2017, Tactical Tech conducted in-depth interviews with 25 politically-active women from 25 different countries across the Global South to understand how their activism was affected by ongoing harassment in the form of threats, intimidation, blackmailing, slander, doxing and others. In order to ensure the safety of all those who contributed to this research, we carefully avoided gender pronouns and their names and country locations while critically analysing their input. This overview is informed by our institutional approach to holistic safety and security, which we understand to be a precursor to the exercise of fundamental rights, and which takes into account the psychosocial aspects of conducting research on online abuse.3
This review is structured as follows:
Section 1 starts with an introduction that outlines our objectives and a user-friendly lexicon to navigate the reader.
This is followed by section 2, which elaborates on our process and findings.
Section 3 looks at how civil society organisations and intergovernmental agencies define online harassment.
Section 4 builds on the previous section by discussing why it is important to address online harassment.
Section 5 elaborates on challenges in responding to gendered online harassment.
Section 6 outlines who is doing what to respond to online harassment, while posing critical questions regarding their efficacy.
Section 7 lists inspiring, creative and resilient strategies implemented by and for women in combatting online harassment.
Section 8 is the conclusion where you can find a summary of findings.
Section 9 suggests steps to combat gendered online harassment moving forward.
The research findings include:
- The lack of a globally-agreed upon framework for defining online harassment directly impacts the response to online harassment, in that it hinders efforts by politically-active women to reach out for support in responding to online harassment.
- Politically-active women’s freedom of expression is targeted on a continuous basis through personalised and gendered attacks, which strongly correlate with their political advocacy.
- Politically-active women felt compelled to take a break from their political advocacy as a direct consequence of the online harassment they faced. “Self-censorship” was also a cross-cutting theme across interviews, impacting a large number of politically-active women who experience online harassment and digital violence.
- Solutions or responses to online harassment lack diversity, complexity and fail to address context-specific challenges. Comprehensive solutions that bring together social, technical and legal remedies are lacking.
- In the absence of context-specific, survivor-centric and rapid support, politically-active women turn toward each other for support and solidarity. Despite their resilience, the lack of a comprehensive support network increases their vulnerability.
- The community guidelines and other types of content moderation criteria developed by social media companies are opaque and ineffective in maintaining the safety and wellbeing of politically-active women.
- Several women expressed that they opt out of requesting support from public institutions or tech companies when faced with online harassment as the available response is often counterproductive, re-traumatising, or even punitive.
- Effective remedies to online harassment lie at the intersection of accountability, context-specific solutions and collaboration between women - who are at the receiving end of this particular form of violence - and civil society organisations, governments and tech companies.
A cross-cutting theme throughout the interviews is that caution should be exercised when centring gender as the primary lens for analysing or responding to gendered online harassment.Politically-active women interviewed in Africa, West Asia and Latin America call for developing holistic approaches that take into account all forms of discrimination targeting women, such as on the basis of their race, ethnicity, religion, class, sexual orientation, abilities and others. The need for an intersectional approach that demonstrates the complexly interwoven relationships and social conditions is essential for understanding and responding to gender-based online discrimination and violence. Accordingly, the next section analyses challenges in defining this particular form of violence.
3 The holistic approach integrates self-care, well-being, digital security, and information security into traditional security management practices. For more information, please visit the Holistic Security Guide