Making the internet safer for women and girls

“I’ve tried to report loads of abusive comments, but I haven’t heard back from the platform in a while and I don’t know how to check if I did it right. I feel frustrated and helpless because I don’t know if reporting the abuse will make any difference. I don’t even know if anyone will think it’s abuse.”

This is just one of the many cases reported by women who experienced abuse online in a study conducted by the Web Foundation.

As life moves online, social media has become a platform for perpetrators to harass and violate women. Unfortunately, the pandemic has only made it much worse. 

When we speak of online gender-based violence, it mostly revolves around women and girls as they excessively receive disproportionate amounts of abuse. These include threats of violence, discrimination, online harassment, doxxing, and sharing of sexual and private images without consent. 

“Women of all nationalities and ethnicities are vulnerable to online violence, but I do think that a lot of Filipinas are unaware of what is already considered as ‘harassment’ so they end up not speaking up about it,” says Darlene Ballano, a 20-year-old vlogger from Quezon City.

“Through the years, I’ve experienced a handful of unsolicited nude photos from men and sexual messages, and I’ve been experiencing this since I was 14,” she added.

Darlene observes that when it comes to reporting it to the authorities, it is usually not taken seriously and the victims are often blamed for what happened. Leaving them feeling unheard and helpless.

“Our country still has a long way to go when it comes to understanding online gender-based violence and its effects on the victims,” she added. “Social media platforms should be more strict when it comes to implementing guidelines so we can protect women and children who use them.”

Darlene Ballano, a 20-year-old vlogger from Quezon City.

In some cases like Rhemlin’s, a 21-year-old college student from Pangasinan, she doesn’t have any recent experience of online abuse because she limits her time on social media.

“I’m not claiming that limiting your screen time would prevent you from being harassed online ; there have been instances where even inactive users have been abused, so I’m vulnerable, and it may still happen to me,” she says.

“Eradicating online gender-based violence remains a lofty goal because I am certain that social media platforms should be more involved in addressing cases of abuse,” she says. “They can offer their users extra security and a higher level of protection. They have a significant impact on making the online world a more inclusive community and a safer environment for people of all genders”.

Rhemlin May Martin, a 21-year-old college student from Labrador, Pangasinan.

To address this, the Web Foundation is bringing together tech companies, policymakers, regulators, and civil society experts around the world to co-create product solutions to online gender-based violence.

In a RightsCon session last 9 June 2021, they presented four different aspects of the project: consultation, design thinking workshops, roundtable, and Generation Equality Forum commitments.

The consultation was gathered among different groups of women worldwide who experienced abuse online. Then they presented five fictional personas of women and mapped out various ways they can experience online gender-based violence based on their profile.

In the design thinking workshops, they gathered stakeholders and tech company representatives, civil society organisations, regulators and public officials, researchers as well as other experts of online gender-based violence to co-create different product solutions for each persona.

Roundtable unpacks these product solutions that were developed during these workshops and bought in with their key stakeholders. Among these product solutions, presented one of the prototypes they have which suggested allowing users to have a dashboard among major online platforms to track the progress of their reports. They also aim to increase personalization of information they can provide for the report to be more concise and easier for Online Platforms to attend to. 

And finally, at the Generation Equality Forum in late June, the Web Foundation and its partners will be calling tech companies to commit to these product solutions and recommendations. It is important that these efforts are translated into action because we owe it to all women and girls to have a safe and empowering experience when they go online, where they can express themselves freely and without worry. 

About the Author

Bernard Joel Victorio is a Marketing sophomore in the Adamson University and currently an editorial intern of SubSelfie.com.

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