This session was hosted by InternetLab and National Democratic Institute (NDI)
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The InternetLab is an independent research center that aims to foster academic debate around issues involving law and technology, especially internet policy. Our goal is to conduct interdisciplinary impactful research and promote dialogue among academics, professionals and policymakers. We follow an entrepreneurial nonprofit model, which embraces our pursuit of producing scholarly research in the manner and spirit of an academic think tank. As a nexus of expertise in technology, public policy and social sciences, our research agenda covers a wide range of topics, including privacy, freedom of speech, gender and technology.
The National Democratic Institute for International Affairs (NDI) is a nonprofit, nonpartisan, nongovernmental organization that responds to the aspirations of people around the world to live in democratic societies that recognize and promote basic human rights. Since its founding in 1983 as one of the four core institutes of the National Endowment for Democracy, NDI and its local partners have worked to support and strengthen democratic institutions and practices by strengthening political parties, civic organizations and parliaments, safeguarding elections and promoting citizen participation, openness and accountability in government. www.ndi.org
Moderator: Fernanda K. Martins (in person)
- Danya Centeno, Digital Rights Lawyer (virtual)
- Anthony Keedi, Masculinities Technical Advisor, Abaad (virtual)
- Malavika Rajkumar, Project Associate, IT for Change (in person)
- Moira Whelan, Director of Democracy and Technology, National Democratic Institute (in person)
Targets: Our proposal aims to amplify the comprehension of gendered disinformation from a Global South perspective, seeking to understand the connection among young democracies, structural gender inequalities, politics of moderation and the gendered disinformation phenomenon. To perceive in a specific and detailed way the local contexts will be important to think of ways to solve and mitigate the problem by integrating different sectors of the society.
The disinformation phenomenon has been a concern in all democratic countries. Ways to guarantee access to true information for all populations; ways for people to fully understand the manipulation of information; ways for platforms' content moderation policies to keep the spread of misinformation under control are some of the concerns that have crossed public power, civil society, and the private sector. These concerns, which are already complex, become even more complicated when we examine the ways this phenomenon could be used to reinforce gender structural inequalities. In thinking about gendered disinformation in the Global South, it is critical to also think about how misinformation affects other structural inequalities, such as race, sexuality, and class.
Derogatory associations to women, black people and LGBTs, linking these groups to people who are less capable, amoral, or criminal, amplify the need to look at specific contexts of disinformation. Thus, from a Global South perspective, some questions are raised: is there an association between the low quantity of women in political positions and the countries with high quantities of gendered disinformation dissemination? How could fragile and young democracies be affected by online gendered disinformation? How do the platforms consider the Global South contexts in their content moderation policies? How does the concept of gender create new challenges in facing the disinformation process? Who are the main social agents affected by gendered disinformation?
The purpose of this networking is to start answering some questions in this roundtable from a Global South perspective, which will be important to enhance the safeguarding of women's rights in an online ecosystem, seeking ways to mitigate and solve the problem in the Global South. This session aims to provide a space for IGF participants, from the Global South, to connect with others working at the intersection of democracy, internet governance and gender disinformation. Based on the World Cafe Method, speakers are expected to conduct small discussion groups - online and in person - to discuss the topic under discussion.
- Welcome and presentations (5 minutes)
- The moderator will direct 1 question to the speakers, each one will have 5 minutes to answer (~ 20 minutes)
- Question: What work are you doing in this space and do you have any personal experiences you can share?
- Question: Considering local realities, are there times when the disinformation processes generated spread more strongly? Could you give us an example?
- Breakout Group Discussions (~20 minutes)
- Speakers will share their discussions at the breakout groups (~ 8 minutes)
- Moderator will finalize the session (~ 2 minutes)
The conclusion of the session was that Gendered disinformation is a global problem, but it is not possible to think in universal solution. It is necessary to focus on Global South and in discovering what are the necessities faced by each country and region. The solution is observed as a multilateral action, involving new legislations, international pressure, process of regulation and space to advocacy from civil society.
The perspective of Global South is essential to comprehend the effects and impacts of this problem while marginalized countries. The main challenge is to think in cross-region solutions, which includes the necessity to transparence, content moderation addressed to different regions and coalitions involving different countries of Global South in dialogue with the Global North.
In the opening statement, Fernanda K. Martins pointed out the importance of understanding that gendered disinformation is a structural inequality that marks all societies. In the Brazilian case, for example, gender disinformation is often associated with narratives that enforce gender inequality, especially when it is propagated in support of the current government. After that, the participants of the table were invited to speak.
During her speech Danya Centeno talked about how the topic was always an issue that she faced in her work and how there were many impacts that affect gender communities, women, LGBTQ, etc. It is also hard because there is not an easy or unique solution which makes it necessary that we take our time to understand the root causes and how it can extend as much as it does.
She also mentioned that sometimes it is very difficult to link the offline impacts of online misinformation, but this linkage is important so that we can prove how misinformation is being spread online and how it is actually targeting and impacting women and non binary communities.
There is an emotional impact that it's often not easy to prove, and that's one of the main areas of concern perhaps, as well as how it can take many shapes. For example, there are now groups that are dedicated to do it and that might receive some sort of money or payment and that are hard to track. When it comes, for example, to platforms, it's also difficult for them to conduct such an investigation because there has to be, like, policies at place that also come from governments to make sure this issue is taken into consideration because platforms do not have the tools to investigate what happens outside of them.
It is worth emphasizing the importance of considering the impacts of gender disinformation outside the online environment. In Brazil, during the elections, political violence, gender-based violence and violence on the streets were very connected and it shows how important it is that we think deeply about this issue.
In her turn, Malavika Rajkumar pointed out that there are a lot of similarities regarding gender disinformation in the Global South, especially when it comes to election time. In India, that's when they see a sort of hike in gender disinformation.The country has one of the largest global internet users and social media users across the board, so it is easy to imagine the violence that women politicians face online.
As a result of a study that they did on abuse and misogynistic trolling that's been detected on Twitter against women in the Indian political and public sphere, it was possible to bring some relevant insights: (i) political violence it's so normalized in the Indian Twitter sphere that it's not even surprising anymore; (ii) one thing that is clear is that women involved with the ruling party all faced violence, specific targets of violence included women who were left‑leaning dissenters, and those women that belong to opposition parties, this also included women that were not even on the platform; (iii) there is a caste-based violence in India, that affects especially Muslim and Dalat women; (iv) the trolling present against these women were light‑hearted, so that means that they were not overly grave threats, which were also visible, and they create a lot of psychological impact on women who are actually seeing this all the time;
(v) the abuse rarely had anything to do with their work or politics, it has mostly to do with their bodies or their character. If it had anything remotely to do with politics, it was to actually attack the woman's credentials, talk about their appearance, including “all beauty no brains”, which is actually an example that we have; (vi) women's bodies were subject to male desire or hyper‑ sexualization, for instance, if there's a picture of the woman, trolls would come on her Twitter threatening to abuse her.
Points like the ones brought up by Malavika are very important because there were undeniable similarities in the context of Global South countries. Many of the points made about India could easily be transported to the Brazilian context.
Finally, Moira Whelan mentionned that gender-based violence and online violence against women in politics was an issue that came to her organization, since it represents what they ender to be the number one reason why women decide not to run for office. From that standpoint they identified it as existential to the future of democracy, but also as a game‑changer because progress in this particular area could really change the nature of elected systems around the world.
According to her, there was a lot of research and work done in order to face this global challenge. The organization created a lexicon that was shared with platforms, and looked at three different tracks along those of technology companies, governance, and civil society, and globally brought together. Two important points brought up by Moira were: (i) identifying that one of the challenges we're facing right now is with tech companies. There are important changes in motion, but also financial challenges and the situation regarding Twitter. That poses a big problem because in this particular area platforms desired to not be blamed for bad things happening, and when you match that with budgetary concerns as well and the fact that this is a cost center for tech companies rather than a value proposition of what a platform can bring to society, it creates an uphill battle for people that want to solve the issue; (ii) On the government side, Moira said that they have eight allied governments that are forming an alliance to address these challenges, such as the United States, Denmark, Australia, South Korea.
She also emphasized the importance of capturing both sides of this challenge. One being individual violence, women facing attacks, but also where it is weaponized for political purposes, and it is important to capture both elements of that because they require different interventions and different approaches.
It is important to consider that when we talk about gender disinformation and consequently about gender‑based violence, we are talking about one thing that impacts all society. Not just all women, but democracy itself. One of the solutions that appears when we talk about it is content moderation or on the other side deregulation, but we have so many challenges related to language, related to context in different countries, it is necessary to be creative and imagine other solutions.
After the initial speeches, people were divided into 4 groups to discuss the debate
Main comments of this part:
- The first thing that appeared in my group was the fact that political gender‑based violence and the number of women in the parliament and other public spheres is very related because it's such a phenomenon limited to women. We talked about different women that are targeted to political gender violence, not just politicians, but also activists, journalists, and how legislation it's not enough, there are more challenges.
- Big tech and algorithms should be considered as part of the equation. These companies are huge companies. There's a financial mode of hate speech that's making money. It is helping people. It's motivating people to be online and get attention. Once we remember these big tech companies are actually behind all of this hate speech, then we can kind of push forward to platform accountability.
- To add on some of the entry points for action that we've been discussing ways to think about alliance‑building and organizing amongst journalists, civil society actors and activists and also politicians to tackle this issue because oftentimes legislation also takes a lot of time. Another point has been raising awareness amongst police officers because persecution also needs people who actually follow up on that case, and another point has been the biased algorithms and AI.