The Internet brings us many possibilities and makes our lives easier but with the Internet there are also many threats, such as cyberbullying or online hate speech. Almost half of all women and one third of all men claim to have experienced cyberbullying via social media direct message. Does this mean that women are more endangered in the virtual environment? One in five young women aged between 18 and 29 have reported online cyber sexual harassment in the EU. Gender-based cyber violence is increasing and affects not only victims, but also businesses and society as a whole.
Women and girls can use internet platforms to collectively mobilize and amplify their voices against social injustices. As an examples can be the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements against gender-based violence, which gained momentum globally. However, both the activists and the movements have been targeted by sexist cyber-attacks.
Online violence and hate speech can have serious consequences on the meaningful online participation of women and girls. A recent World Wide Web Foundation consultation on online gender-based violence shows that online abuse can “silence, discredit and censor women’s voices online” and can lead women to leave the digital space altogether
The European Parliament calls on the European Commission to take strong action to eliminate violence against women online. “This is a monumental and much-needed step for women’s rights in the EU and comes as an initiative of the EPP Group”, stressed Elissavet Vozemberg-Vrionidi MEP and Maria Walsh MEP.
Spanish MEP (A Member of the European Parliament) for The Left Eugenia Rodríguez Palop said that the fact that 60 percent of female members of parliament in the EU had been subjected to sexist attacks online, including misogynistic insults, incitement to hatred, death threats, harassment, deep fakes and even pornographic videos. Eugenia Rodríguez Palop also added, “Some would have us believe that politics is a man’s world, and they would have us stay at home. Nonetheless, we persist, and we stay. We are fighting for feminist politics; we are tired of testosterone and of leaders obsessed with power and control. We will manage to feminist politics and we will put an end to this phallocentric politics that fuels misogyny.” With over 80 percent of female politicians across Europe having suffered cyber violence, intimidation and harassment, it’s clear why MEPs began calling on the European Commission to introduce legislation to curb online hate.
How to make the Internet safer for everyone?
As the world becomes more and more digital, it is even more important to step up action to improve online security so that everyone can participate equally in the opportunities that the Internet offers.
- creating greater awareness and visibility around online gender-based violence
- the institutions and legislations for the protection of digital rights of citizens should be strengthened
- there needs to be more research on gender-based cyber-violence so that evidence-based policy actions can be implemented to make the internet safer for all users.
The internet has become a daily helper for people all over the world and everyone should have the same chance to benefit from the opportunities it provides and to get their voice heard without feeling that their security or privacy can be threatened. Together, we can make the Internet a safer digital space for everyone.