IT for Change and InternetLab organized a two-day closed roundtable on Feminist Perspectives on Social Media Governance on April 19-20, 2022. This roundtable was part of our Recognize-Resist-Remedy Project, funded by IDRC Canada, that explores how women's first-order right to participation can be reclaimed in the platformized publics of the Internet age.
Through this roundtable, we sought to envision new imaginaries of social media governance to eradicate the unfreedoms arising from misogyny in online communications agora. Find details of the participants, agenda and the topics covered in the two-day event in the resource pack here.
Read on for a brief overview of the essays:
Online Visibility: Between Fashioning Identities and Structural Invisibilization
Mardiya Siba Yahaya
Online public spheres have been characterized by masculine hegemonies, and women are reminded through violence that they do not belong (Gqola, 2021). Women’s online participation comes with the expectation of reasonable privacy or protection against harassment and violence in a ‘public space’. However, this expectation is often countervailed by the gendered violence that is pervasive in society. In this paper, the author explores the conditional terms of access that define women’s mode of (in)visibility in the digital public sphere. The essay looks at the implications of moral surveillance and scrutiny of African Muslim Influencers online—addressing gendered surveillance, and the importance of re-grounding technology in social context, embodiment, and place (Kovacs, 2017).
Yasmin Curzi de Mendonça
In this essay, the author aims to present partial results of their doctoral research at the State University of Rio de Janeiro, where they interview Brazilian activists, politicians, and journalists who have experienced online gender-based violence (OGBV). The study explores the strategies of resistance embraced by women in the face of adversarial situations, also contending with the insufficiencies in the current Brazilian legal framework. The essay also points to the culpability of social media platforms in perpetuating OGBV.
Racialized Genealogy of the Gendered Public Sphere
This essay is a theoretical exploration, providing a structural critique of violence against women in digital environments. It invokes the work of Rita Segato (2010, 2018) on the aetiology of online-offline gender violence to establish the constitutive inseparability of the two seemingly disparate spheres. It also unpacks the media rationale governing platforms and algorithms that structure communications on the internet. The author argues that this misogynist-racist violence cannot be interpreted as deviations or flaws of the digital communication processes. Instead, they are rational and grounded manifestations of power, knowledge, being, and internet coloniality, that are a necessary component of the current colonial, modern, and binary socio-technical design.
Anne Njathi and Rebeccah Wambui
The paper is predicated on the quantitative increase in the use of the internet, particularly, among women whose qualitative participation is, however, undercut by new weapons such as shadow banning, trolling, and cyberbullying among others, to silence and shame them. Through case studies, the findings of the paper indicate that while violence against women and queer folks continues unabated on social media platforms; platforms’ regulation policies purported to correct the harms actually reinforce gender and sexual hierarchies, class-racial inequalities to reify differential and unjust treatment of people belonging to marginalized sections. The essay also offers a close reading of the Kenyan Computer Misuse and Cybercrimes Act, offering constructive criticism to envision governance and policies that dismantle systemic gender inequalities unfolding within digital platforms in the context of developing African countries.
Legal Responses to Online Gendered Violence
The May 2020 revisions to South Korea’s Telecommunication Business Act attempted to shatter the pervasive assumption of platforms as passive intermediaries and uninhibited open space for content and information exchange. These revisions belatedly recognized the consumption and circulation of non-consensual intimate images (NCII) by networked publics, and expanded the regulatory obligations of domestic social media and open community forums to directly filter, report, and takedown exploitative materials. A year later, this imperfect, yet landmark legislation faces an imminent threat of scale-back under the new conservative administration. This essay interrogates the rejection of expanded intermediary liability under the guise of favoring anti-censorship regimes. The author argues that the instrumental invocation of the right to free expression conceals the kernel of sexism that gets reinforced by uncritically rendering the internet as an ungovernable space. An unqualified anti-censorship stance, in fact, comes at the expense of women’s rights to safe and full digital participation. By examining South Korea’s current legislative impasse, therefore, they ask: What are the feminist conceptions of platform standard-building; and What are the strategies for countering the fallacy of gender-inclusive online publics as being mutually exclusive from internet freedom?
This essay attempts to articulate the unspoken yet active cultural work performed by community guidelines that frame people’s participation on platforms. It highlights the need for a context-specific regulatory document on the behaviors of platform users. The essay brings to the fore the doublespeak of Big Tech platforms that profess to develop community guidelines for the benefit of their users, while actually curbing user expression and autonomy by upholding hegemonic normative standards of the community.
Online misogyny is a phenomenon encompassing one of the many forms of violence perpetrated against women online. It is a pernicious, silencing experience designed to subjugate women online and limit their participatory rights. The essay argues that legal systems fail to define oVAW, frequently excluding gender (and/or misogyny) from the ambit of hate crime frameworks and rendering women online to the lowest priority for protection. It demonstrates the ways in which responsibility gaps persist beyond the law as well, and how the fragmented approaches of policy bodies, international organizations, online platforms, and the law compound the problem. It articulates the need for a holistic, ‘joined up’ approach to tackling misogyny, evaluating its impact and harms, and also suggests approaches to provide online safety by bridging the existing responsibility gap.
Towards a Feminist Online Public Sphere
Arnav Arora, Mahalakshmi J, and Cheshta Arora
This essay recounts the authors’ experience of building a user-facing browser plug-in to detect and mitigate instances of online-gender based violence (oGBV) in three Indian languages: Indian English, Hindi and Tamil. It describes the nature of data collected across languages and forms, how it represents oGBV and how the ‘problem’ of building an oGBV detection tool for journalists, activists, leaders, community influencers, and celebrities translates into reality on Twitter. The essay offers an expanded definition of oGBV to include instances of misogyny, sexism, transphobia as well as hate speech, ’creepy’ comments, and abusive political/electoral speech and presents an overview of the algorithmic responses to such instances of violence.
When we look at the deeply flawed system of social media governance, it is easy to focus on reactions: Who is being harmed in this space? What legal mechanisms are there for accountability? How can we remove or punish those engaging social media’s purposefully misogynistic design? In doing so we often limit our ability to be emboldened in the kind of interventions we seek. The author urges us to ask ourselves what it will take for us to be able to account for the varied ways in which misogyny and platformized hate arise. Exploring the ways in which feminist care is practiced, and understanding communities of care, she submits, can offer us a holistic lens for the redesigning of social media governance. Transnational feminist work on international solidarity is seen to provide possible ways forward for a global response to the vagaries of social media governance.
Community guidelines are official documents that platforms put out to establish ground rules for users, lay out acceptable uses of their technology and outline the recourse available to users when these guidelines have been violated. The paper explores community guidelines for short video sharing apps in India (Moj, MX Takatak etc), to answer whether and how these apps incorporate local contexts, and what the sector can do better to make the platform safer for all users.