The internet risks scaring women away

Unless we act 2023 will be the year women leave the internet. Women already face enormous risks online. A Pew Research report of a US survey shows that one-third of young women report having been sexually harassed online and that women report being more upset by these experiences and seeing them as a bigger problem than men. A UNESCO study of journalists found that 73 percent of women surveyed had experienced violence online, with 20 percent saying they had been physically attacked or abused disconnected regarding online abuse. In response, women journalists reported self-censoring, withdrawing from online interactions, and avoiding engaging with their audiences. Filipino-American journalist and Nobel Peace Prize winner Maria Ressa wrote about online abuse he faces, receiving at one point an average of more than 90 hate messages per hour. After she investigated and wrote about campaign finance irregularities surrounding then-presidential candidate Jair Bolsonaro, the employer of Brazilian journalist PatrĂ­cia Campos Mello received hundreds of thousands of harassing WhatsApp messages and threats of physical confrontation, so much so that her employer, newspaper Folha de S.Paulo, she was forced to hire a bodyguard for herself. He also had to cancel all events for a month. What both women shared was that they dared to question power while being visible on social media.

It’s not just famous or highly visible women who face enough abuse online to consider leaving social media. A YouGov survey commissioned by the dating app Bumble showed that nearly half of women ages 18-24 received unsolicited sexual images in the past year. UK Member of Parliament Alex Davies-Jones put the phrase ‘dick photo’ on the historical record during the debate on the UK online safety bill when he asked a fellow MP if he had ever received one. It is not, as she said, a rhetorical question for most women.

AI-enabled intimate image abuse that combines images to create or generate new, often realistic images, so-called deepfakes, are other weapons for online abuse that disproportionately affect women. Sensity AI Estimates they suggest that 90 to 95 percent of all fake deep online videos are non-consensual pornography, and around 90 percent of them feature women. The technology to create realistic deepfakes is now outpacing our ability and efforts to combat it. What we see now is a perverse democratization of the ability to cause harm: the barriers to entry for creating deepfakes are low and the fakes are becoming more realistic. Current tools to identify and combat this abuse simply cannot keep up.

And the effects of online harm against women are chilling. We can look at the research that has been done in societies where women face more social restrictions to see the impact. In a pioneering research study, Katy Pearce and Jessica Vitak found women in Azerbaijan who choose not to be online because the potential real-world repercussions resulting from online bullying were simply too high in an honor-based culture with high degrees of surveillance. In other words, women were faced with an impossible double standard: unable to control their image on social media but severely punished for it.

There are answers: Better security by design can help people control their images and messages. For example, Twitter recently allowed people to control how they are tagged in photos. Dating app Bumble launched the aptly named Private Detector, an AI-enabled tool that allows users to control what, if any, unsolicited nude images they want to see. Legislation, such as the UK’s proposed Online Safety Act, can encourage social media companies to address these risks. It’s far from perfect, but the bill takes a systems-based approach to regulation, calling on platform companies to assess risks and develop initial solutions, such as better moderation of human content, better handling of user complaints, users and push for the adoption of better systems. user care.

This regulatory approach is not guaranteed to prevent women from going offline in large numbers by 2023. If they do, not only will the benefits of being online be lost, but our online communities will suffer.

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