Supporting Safer Digital Spaces — Introducing CIGI’s Special Report

Speaker: Suzie Dunn

June 8, 2023

Supporting Safer Digital Spaces — Introducing CIGI’s Special Report

Technology-facilitated gender-based violence (TFGBV) is recognized as one of the most widespread forms of interpersonal violence that impacts women and LGBTQ+ individuals around the globe. This type of violence includes behaviour that is considered online gender-based violence (OGBV), such as cyberstalking, online harassment and the non-consensual sharing of intimate images of victims, as well as technology-facilitated behaviour, such as threatening text messages or voyeurism.

Technology-facilitated gender-based violence (TFGBV) and TFV against LGBTQ+ people is on the rise internationally, but there is limited data on the true extent of it, with mostly anecdotal accounts from the Global South.

Supporting a Safer Internet is a multi-year research project created to address this gap.

As part of the project, an international survey of more than 18,000 people of all genders in 18 countries was conducted, with a focus on the experiences of people from the Global South. The data gathered from this survey aims to help civil society organizations, the private sector, and governments better design responses to TFV through online platform regulation, education programs, legal recourse and more.

CIGI Senior Fellow Suzie Dunn encourages viewers to read the full report, Supporting Safer Digital Spaces, and highlights the data from this groundbreaking survey as well as a selection of the report’s 87 recommendations.

In today’s world, technology is a daily part of our lives. We use it to keep in contact with our loved ones, share information, advocate for our rights, and engage in everyday life in our modern society.

Unfortunately, many of these digital tools are being misused and weaponized to cause harms.

Social media platforms, cell phone cameras and instant messaging, all of which can play such a positive role in our lives, are also being used to harass people and scare them out of digital spaces.

Hate speech, trolling, image-based sexual abuse, threats, doxing and cyberstalking are some of the forms of tech-facilitated violence, or TFV, that have become common in digital spaces.

What we know is that LGBTQ+ people, women, girls and other marginalized groups are disproportionately harmed by TFV, and abusive behaviour can drive them offline and stop them from engaging authentically in digital spaces.

Those targeted often experience increased mental distress, reduced feelings of safety, economic losses, fears of expressing themselves online and, in some cases, physical attacks, including death, as what happens online, has real impacts in the physical world.

Tech-facilitated violence is a worldwide phenomenon that has been under addressed by many policy makers, social media companies and governments.

It is in urgent need of attention.

Through a multi-year research project led by CIGI, and with support from the International Development Research Centre, an international survey of more than 18,000 people of all genders in 18 countries was conducted.

This survey examined the experiences of women and LGBTQ+ persons online, with a specific focus on countries in the Global South, and forms the backbone of our report, Supporting Safer Digital Spaces.

The report also summarizes previous research from across the world on tech-facilitated violence and leaves little doubt about the negative impacts of online harms.

The data shows that nearly 60% percent of all people surveyed have experienced some form of online harm, with a significant number of participants recognizing that they were attacked because of their identity, such as their gender, sexual orientation or race.

Almost one in three of respondents who are transgender or gender diverse reported severe impacts to their mental health, including their desire to live.

Almost 30 percent% of women reported negative impacts to their mental health, and 23% percent felt that they could no longer engage freely online after experiencing tech- facilitated violence.

The report also shows that a high proportion of men engage in some of the most harmful behaviours online, and because of this, they have an essential role to play in making digital spaces safer.

Over the past two decades, tech-facilitated violence has only increased, and although some efforts have been made to curtail these harmful behaviours, currently there are inadequate resources dedicated to understanding and preventing this new form of abuse.

So, what should the next steps look like?

Governments, technology companies, civil society organizations and researchers must take a human rights-based approach to create policy, legal and community-based frameworks to better protect vulnerable and marginalized populations.

The report details recommendations to address tech-facilitated violence through educational campaigns, legal and policy resources, tools for support and non-governmental resources. Ending tech-facilitated violence requires an ecosystem approach where all actors are working together towards the common goal of eradicating it.

Governments must take a public stance against TFV and develop laws and policies to prevent it.

Tech companies must invest in ensuring that their products are safe to use and that their companies are responsive to the ways that their technology can be used in abusive ways.

Civil society organizations and researchers must be adequately funded so that they can better understand this phenomenon and provide evidence-based supports to those who are targeted by tech-facilitated violence.

This is particularly important for marginalized people in the Global South, who have less access to resources that address tech-facilitated violence and whose experiences with TFV are often neglected by governments and technology companies.

We all must act together to create digital spaces that are safe for all.

You can link to the full report from this video, and I would encourage you to read it.

For media inquiries, usage rights or other questions please contact CIGI.

The opinions expressed in this article/multimedia are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of CIGI or its Board of Directors.