Femena: Right, Peace, Inclusion

Femena: Right, Peace, Inclusion
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How to Protect Ourselves from Online Attacks

Author: Yara WHRD Center

A report published by amnesty international states: “Between December 2016 and March 2018, Amnesty International has conducted qualitative and quantitative research about women’s experiences on social media platforms including the scale, nature and impact of violence and abuse directed towards women on Twitter. During this investigation, Amnesty International interviewed 86 women journalists, politicians, bloggers, comedians, activists, etc.

The results of this research also indicate the gross negligence of the Twitter company in fulfilling its responsibilities of creating an environment away from discrimination, harassment and violence.” Many of the women who were interviewed discussed widespread violence and abuse on Twitter and emphasized that staying and working in this space is vitally important for them, both in terms of their personal lives and their professional lives. Women rely on social networks such as Twitter for advocacy, interaction, public mobilization, access to information and visibility.

Today, it is necessary for human rights defenders to insist on the right to protection from abuse and the right to freedom of expression in virtual space and make companies like twitter accountable. Speaking out about sexist digital abuse, recognizing its harsh consequences for mental health and the role it plays in silencing the voices of women activists is a preliminary step. Combatting the current situation requires collective solutions and affirmative measures. However, there exist some recommended strategies to deal with cyberbullying, or at least reduce its harm on the individual level. It is also important to discuss and spread awareness of these strategies as an effort to make virtual spaces safer for women and gender and sexual minorities.

Protection of personal information

Avoid publishing your important private information. Be cautious about the information you share publicly, especially if you are a well-known activist and human rights defender at risk of online and offline attack. Make sure that your location is not identifiable on the content you publish. Avoid clicking on suspicious links sent by anonymous users.

Ignore cyber bullies and do not respond

It is highly recommended that you should never engage in conversation with bullies and harassers. Ignore abusive behavior and do not respond directly. Twitter also (based on experience) suggests the same. Replying back often leads to increased violence and harassment. The harasser seeks your attention. Disappoint them.

Do not promote, like, and retweet sexist bully accounts

Be cautious about users who use sexual attacks and sexist words towards others or publish private information and images to attack others. Some of these users may sometimes have political views in line with yours or pretend to be the voice of the marginalized and suppressed. But to reshare and promote these users ultimately gives validation to violent and sexist behaviors.

Report to Twitter

Twitter has provided tools to deal with cases of online harassment. One of these tools is the option to report the violent user to the company, especially in cases of repeated harassment and threats of disclosure of personal information and images. Although many instances of harassment and bullying do not count as a violation according to Twitter rules, the mute or block option is always a strategy to protect yourself from harassment, unwanted communication, and annoying behavior. Report violent users to Twitter not only when you are the target, but also when you witness others being bullied and harassed online.

Legal action

In some severe cases of online attacks, threats, or intimidations, you might feel the necessity of taking legal action. For instance, when you receive death or rape threats with reference to your home or work address. Many jurisdictions across the globe lack comprehensively sufficient laws to protect women from digital violence, or existing laws are not being enforced efficiently. But if you fear severe consequences and you have decided to take legal action, make sure to take screenshots and document abusive behavior and all the threats.  Write down all the details regarding the context and the time of the incident. If the violent user has shown such behaviors on other platforms or has inflicted harm to others in the past, document all these cases carefully.

Self-care

Research suggest that online attacks may have severe long-term mental consequences. You have to take these attacks, especially the repeated ongoing ones, seriously. Some victims of digital violence have reported that they have experienced anxiety, fear of physical attack, sleeping and eating disorders, and other issues related to mental health and physical health. Speak up to the ones you trust or seek expert support and consultation. Self-care has proved to be an effective way for dealing with mental harm. Take time away from online space and take care of yourself.