With the internet and the proliferation of social media, there’s no denying that there’s been a growing concern over gender-based harassment online. More recently, there’s been an increase in reports of online abuse from young girls and women, members of the LGBTQ+ community and people who identify as nonbinary as well as other marginalised groups.
It’s challenging to determine the exact reason for this dramatic increase in reports, but one possibility is the COVID-19 pandemic. More people spending time indoors means they’re likely turning to the internet for ‘entertainment’.
Stories about online harassment have dominated headlines in recent years, and it’s tough to point the finger of blame. Are online platforms responsible for allowing this type of malicious online behaviour? What laws are in place to efficiently protect women from being verbally abused online?
There are a few different types of online gender-based violence (GBV). Here are some common definitions to help you, in case we refer to them:
– Cyberbullying: Bullying using digital technologies.
– Cyberstalking: Using the internet to engage in non-consensual communication with another person.
– Trolling: Intentionally upsetting someone by posting inflammatory content.
– Doxxing: Posting private information about a person online.
– Non-consensual pornography: Distributing pornographic material online without consent.
About 51 per cent of girls have personally experienced some form of online GBV, and 85 per cent of these girls have experienced multiple forms of online harassment. There’s no question that girls and women face a disproportionate chance of being victims of online abuse.
Take the wildly popular streaming platform Twitch, for example. Some female streamers think that dealing with online harassment “comes with the job,” as stated by The Huffington Post. It’s gotten to the point that this type of online behaviour has become common, but it’s highly unacceptable.
However, the important question to ask is, what are tech companies doing to combat it?
Google, for example, has a harassment reporting tool in place. Still, some argue that the threshold is too low, and nothing will be done if the harassment doesn’t meet certain requirements.
Other entities, like Twitter, Facebook and TikTok, have been specifically called out by a group of 200 prominent women to level up their harassment mitigation strategies. Because there are so many instances of online harassment being directed towards women, it’s clear that tech giants need to do a better job at protecting their users.
Unless you’ve lived under a rock, you know how prevalent technology is in today’s increasingly digital world. However, the law has been slow to adapt to new technologies. While there are some ways for victims to address their attackers, they often are costly and invasive. Often, victims don’t find the justice they were searching for.
Some legal scholars say that attackers could be brought to justice if the law is used right. The justice system has two options for victims—to file a civil or criminal lawsuit. Victims can use the tort law through a civil case, sometimes referred to as a civil wrong.
While it may be possible, unless the victim has stellar lawyers and some extra money in their savings, filing a case like this is often time-consuming and expensive. Additionally, cases such as these often bring unwanted attention to the victim, which can cause even more emotional damage.
Until then, more girls and women will be subjected to harassment which can lead to low self-esteem, depression or worse. There have been reports of young people committing suicide due to developing depression after being a victim of online abuse.
In one case, ‘Kate’, a 23-year old Queensland woman, is very wary of posting on social media out of fear that she would be targeted and harassed. Kate wants tech leaders to do more to protect all users on their platform, and she makes a compelling case.
Governments, organisations and the tech companies behind these digital platforms owe it to women to implement strategic methods to combat online GBV. It’s up to these entities to cover their bases and do the right thing—not to tolerate any form of online harassment. It’s time for big tech to step up and take actionable steps to mitigate this ongoing issue.