Recognise, Resist, Remedy: Addressing Gender-Based Hate Speech in the Online Public Sphere

This collaborative project between IT for Change, India and InternetLab, Brazil addresses gender-based hate speech in the online public sphere. Supported by International Development Research Centre (IDRC), the project responds to the current reality in both countries where women are not only speaking up against patriarchy, but also claiming public-political space despite pervasive sexism and misogyny.

It adopts three main strategies: (a) highlightng blind spots in dominant legal frameworks that prevent effective recognition of sexist/misogynistic speech online as a violation of women’s rights; (b) offering ways to reform content governance and intermediary liability legislation to ensure timely redressal; and (c) building a proof-of-concept model to resist normalisation of sexist speech online.


Project Outputs

1. Why the Debate on Political Ads on Social Media is a Distraction - Article on Firstpost

This media piece by Anita Gurumurthy and Bhavna Jha is a contribution to the conversation on intermediary liability and the importance of responsibilisation of social media platforms. It argues that the law cannot become an instrument to legitimise private censorship, but must aim to slow the spread of intolerant attitudes, weaken extremist political forces, and guard against abuse by authoritarian populists, while providing judicial oversight and user right to appeal. It was originally published in Firstpost.

2. Internet Detox: A Fail-Proof Mechanism to End Online Sexism - Panel at IGF 2019

IT for Change, along with InternetLab, organised and participated in a panel on ‘Internet Detox: A Fail-Proof Mechanism to End Online Sexism’ at the Internet Governance Forum, Berlin in November 2019 which was one of the three propositions around gender to be accepted.

3. Submission on the Draft Amendment to Intermediary Guidelines Rules 2018

We shared specific recommendations on the content moderation aspects of platform governance with the relevant ministry, that addressed the overlaps between gender-based hate speech and other forms of online violence against women. Our submission to the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology towards the ongoing revision of internet intermediary liability guidelines under India’s Information Technology Act, 2000, brought in considerations of tackling online sexism and misogyny.

4. Submission to the UN Special Rapporteur's Report, 'Privacy: A Gender Perspective'

Our recommendations on privacy and gender to the UN Special Rapporteur on Privacy highlighted, among other issues, the social and community surveillance of women that has a chilling effect on their participation in online publics. Our submission also outlined the challenges to regulation posed by the techno-social underpinnings of misogyny online.

5. Panel on Intermediary Liability and User Rights

IT for Change’s Bhavna Jha participated in a panel on intermediary liability organized by the Centre for Internet & Society. The panel examines sections 69 and 79 of the IT Act that permit the government to mandate intermediaries to remove/block content. The discussion focused on the procedural flaws of the law, issues of due process, and the lack of transparency in the legal process of content takedown.

6. The Pandemic and Public Space: Seeing Like a Cyberfeminist - Article on Firstpost

The Covid-19 pandemic has shown just how deep the fault lines of gender inequality run and how women’s claim to the public is but a carefully negotiated allowance given to women. In this article, Anita Gurumurthy and Bhavna Jha argue that public (including online) participation is women's first-order claim to being recognised as human beings, and the pandemic cannot be allowed to undermine that.

7. Articulating a Feminist Response to Online Hate Speech: First Steps - Article on Bot Populi

As online publics become integral parts of people's public and private lives, it is more important than ever to consider the ramifications of online hate speech against women and femininity. While the judiciary and social media platforms have tried to control online misogyny, their 'solutions' have been inadequate; sidetepping concerns of privacy, consent, and women’s dignity to focus on 'honour', free-speech, etc. In this article for Bot Populi, Anita Gurumurthy and Bhavna Jha emphasize the need to collaboratively develop a feminist articulation of how sexist hate can be curtailed across the techno-legal fictions of public, private, and digital spaces – making them safe and equally accessible.

8. What’s So Private about Online Sexual Harassment? - Article on Bot Populi

As women stake their claim in online publics, many have faced backlash in the form of online gender-based violence, much of which has been dismissed based on the patriarchal idea of women's presence in public spaces begetting 'temptation'. Additionally, the purely geo-spatial understanding of 'public space' in Indian laws addressing sexual harassment, and the general legal ambiguity about online publics, has lead to the accused in cases of online sexual harassment being acquitted. Bhavna Jha, in this article for Bot Populi, reflects on the Madras high Court's interpretation of “Public Place” in cases of sexual harassment in virtual spaces and emphasizes the necessity of a feminist review of laws that are blind to the reality of spatial fluidity in a post-digital society.

9. Kannada-language Participatory Action Research with a Bengaluru-based Youth Collective

A Participatory Action Research was carried out by a Bengaluru-based youth collective, in association with Samvada, in an effort to identify and resist normalisation of misogynistic speech online. The collective conducted an exploratory survey on perceptions of online sexist hate, and you can view the results in Kannada here or in English here. The collective has also launched #SaakuSexistHate (#EnoughSexistHate), a unique, Kannada-language social media campaign, to combat expressions of sexist hate in cyberspace and reclaim the internet for women and girls. This campaign is being carried as part of #16DaysOfActivism on the occasion of the International Day of Elimination of Violence Against Women, 25 November, 2020. View highlights from the campaign on Instagram here.

Focus Areas
What We Do
Resource Type
online hate speech