IGF 2019 WS #247 Internet de-tox: A fail-proof regimen to end online sexism

Organizer 1: Mariana Valente, InternetLab
Organizer 2: Nandini Chami, IT for Change and part of Digital Justice project, a collaborative initiative of Development Alternatives with Women for a New Era (DAWN) network and IT for Change
Organizer 3: Scott Campbell, UN Human Rights

Speaker 1: Mariana Valente, Civil Society, Latin American and Caribbean Group (GRULAC)
Speaker 2: Nanjira Sambuli, Civil Society, African Group
Speaker 3: Jai Vipra, Civil Society, Asia-Pacific Group

Policy Question(s): 

An effective online content governance framework that balances freedom of expression and freedom from misogynistic speech continues to be a policy challenge for gender inclusion. The attacks that women face in the online public sphere reflects social prejudice that is intersectional. For instance, in India and Brazil, caste and race are ever-present in the hate that women encounter online. This reinforces social and gender stratification, amplifying discrimination and contaminating public discourse. Building on empirical research on gender-based hate speech in India and Brazil, this workshop will address the following policy questions:
(a) What are the legal-policy constructs about sexism and misogyny in India and Brazil, respectively, and how adequate are they in tackling gender-based hate speech online?
(b) What new normative benchmarks that address gender-based hate speech are needed to enable women’s free expression online without the threat of highly punishing costs of online participation?
(c) What actions should policymakers, internet intermediaries and civil society organisations undertake, for gender-transformative change, including in online cultures?
(c) What good practices on legal-policy frameworks, platform policies, and cultural interventions are instructive, in this regard?

Relevance to Theme: A central concern of the thematic area “Security, Safety, Stability and Resilience” is the creation of a healthy digital environment that enables women to freely exercise their voice, without the shadow of violence perpetually looming over them.

Relevance to Internet Governance: Content regulation has been a long-standing priority area of engagement for the Dynamic Coalition on Gender and Internet Governance and this has acquired a lot of traction in the past couple of years. Feminist activists and groups across the global South have been calling out the increasing sexism and misogyny in dominant online spaces and the inadequacy of existing responses of states and platform intermediaries. The Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women (part of the Special Procedures Mechanism of the UN OHCHR) has called attention to the need for immediate cooperation of states, platform intermediaries and all other stakeholders in this regard, in order to evolve a robust response to the issue that is rooted in the broader framework of human rights.

Sexism and misogyny have tended to be historically ignored in legal discourse. Democracies have tended to tolerate disparaging remarks about women in the public sphere. However, as women have stormed the Internet, seizing online spaces to speak up, build community and assert their rights, this normalization has become contested. Further, what existing research points to is that in the online public sphere, hate against women is based on their differential locations – tying in with their caste, racial, religious, ethnic and sexual identities.

While social media platforms acknowledge the challenge and are exploring new ways of modifying techno-design and upgrading community standards in context-appropriate ways, efforts need to be based on informed discussions rooted in feminist frameworks. Legal approaches need a new normal. Civil society organizations, especially women’s rights activists working on building alternative communicative cultures for the digital society, need to present ideas and concepts that can inform norm development by the state and by social media companies. This workshop will bring initial insights from an inter-country research project exploring legal/institutional/socio-cultural responses to tackle online hate speech against women in Brazil and India, in order to trigger an informed debate and discussion in this emerging policy area.


Round Table - U-shape - 90 Min

Description: The agenda for this session, organized as a roundtable, is as follows:

(a) Deep dive into context-specific manifestations of online sexism and misogyny and identifying the key legal-institutional and socio-cultural challenges of the issue
(b) Identification of a roadmap for strategic action through exchange of ideas on legal, policy and community action, including:
- overhaul of legal frameworks
- articulation of the roles and responsibilities of platform intermediaries
- efforts to challenge deep cultures of patriarchy that normalize sexism and misogyny in digitally-mediated social interactions

The moderator, Scott Campbell from UN OHCHR, will open the roundtable (2 minutes) by flagging the urgency of evolving a multi-stakeholder roadmap rooted in human rights frameworks for tackling online sexism, misogyny and violence. He will then invite 4 expert inputs of 6-7 minutes (28 minutes) each, to frame the conversation:

Mariana Valente, InternetLab, Brazil and Jai Vipra, IT for Change, India will present reflections about their country contexts, from their ongoing IDRC-supported research collaboration on this issue. The intent of these presentations is to raise provocative questions about the adequacy of global community standards of platform intermediaries and global North approaches to free speech regulation in addressing this issue in democracies of the global South.

The representative from Facebook, South African Development Community region, will reflect on the platform’s efforts to improve and refine its community standards, taking into account cultural sensitivities, and enhance responsiveness to complaints about gender-based hate speech and cyber violence. S/he will focus on the challenges in this regard.

Nanjira Sambuli, Web Foundation, Kenya will discuss the major gaps in existing responses to the issues, reflecting on actions of states, platform companies, and civil society organizations, including the gaps in inter-stakeholder cooperation.

This segment of the session will be followed by a round table discussion (50 minutes) where 15 participants will be encouraged to make 2-3 minute long interventions, reflecting on the intersections between their contextual experiences of dealing with online sexism and misogyny and the issues raised through the expert presentations. The intent of this collective brainstorming is to evolve a robust action plan to address the issue, including the evolution of global normative benchmarks. These participants who will be allotted speaking slots will be identified prior to the session by the organizing team -- both through a process of online sign-ons from interested individuals through widely publicizing the workshop in the lead up to the IGF and extending individual invites to experts in this area who are known to be attending the IGF. In the process of allocating the speaking slots, care will be taken to ensure that there is adequate representation of women and girls who are active in public-political life, and individuals from marginalized socio-structural locations (eg. sexual orientation, gender identity, geography, and age).

At the end, each of the 4 speakers will have 2 minutes (10 minutes) to wrap up on what they see as critical elements for a ‘de-tox’ regimen to end online sexism and misogyny, by building on key elements raised in the plenary discussion.

Expected Outcomes: (a) Trigger a robust, evidence-based discussion about the context-appropriate responses to online sexism and misogyny, especially in the global South
(b) Trace the contours of a multi-stakeholder road map to tackle this issue, focusing on the dimensions of legal-policy reform, roles and responsibilities of platform intermediaries, and cultural change.

Onsite Moderator: 

Scott Campbell, Intergovernmental Organization, Western European and Others Group (WEOG)

Online Moderator: 

Nandini Chami, Civil Society, Asia-Pacific Group


Mariana Valente, Civil Society, Latin American and Caribbean Group (GRULAC)

Discussion Facilitation: 

The format of the session makes for engaged debate and dialogue -- a roundtable that is kickstarted with trigger presentations to catalyse reflective engagement. 40 minutes have been earmarked for plenary discussion to ensure that participants have adequate time for interventions.

Online Participation: 

The online moderator will invite comments/reflections on the trigger presentation from remote participants which she will feed into the plenary discussion.


GOAL 5: Gender Equality