Glitch!UK at UN IGF 2017: Combating Online Violence Against Politically Active Women

A few months ago I was invited to be on the National Democratic Institute’s panel at the United Nations Internet Governance Forum (shout out to Soraya for recommending me!)

Online violence against politically active women is an increasing threat to democracy particularly as we move political participation online, it deters young women aspiring to have a political career and attempts to silence women online.

Below is a copy of the speech I will be making tomorrow. You can watch via the IGF Live stream tomorrow, 2pm (UK time).

 Thank you National Democratic Institute for inviting me to be part of this brilliant panel and hosting a very important discussion on a growing problem for 21st Century society and democracy. If I may I would like to first touch on the Freedom of expression point.

 During our training workshops and events we are asked the same two questions “When does freedom of speech become hate speech?” and “Shouldn’t women expect robust debate in politics?”

For Glitch!UK the answer simple!

Online abuse is not about robust debate it’s about intentional harassment of women to get them to leave the internet particularly social media, modify their behaviour to please patriarchy and self-censorship.

There are some things that are just clearly hateful and do not belong in robust debate. Sending racist abuse, rape threats and sharing a video without someone’s consent are clear red lines. Once we tackle this, then we can turn our attention to the remarks that are not so clear cut.

Social media companies must respect and do more to protect the right of women and diverse groups to express themselves online.

Sadly, this is not happening.

Women aren’t allowed be free to express themselves, their opinion or even post a selfie. Women aren’t allowed be strong and confident in their opinion online and especially women of colour.

“Which STD will end your miserable life?”

“if all whites agreed that the best course of action would be to exterminate blacks, we could do it in a week.”

“This is why monkeys don’t belong here.”  “I hope you get lynched.”

These are just some of the many messages I received in storm of abuse and harassment earlier this year. This was some time after a video of me making an intervention at the European Parliament went viral. 

On one hand, the online world is merely a reflection of the state of our society; on the other hand the online world seems to be a comfortable place for those who know they cannot behave in such a way offline.

It is not just a video that attracts abuse or harassment

It’s a selfie with my head wrap and braids,

It’s proudly celebrating UK Black History Month,

When creating online events for people of colour to have a space to meet

Or when advocating for black people’s human rights to not be badly mistreated or die in police custody.  

My experience is sadly not uncommon and is an indication of how far society has to go to achieve true equality.  

There is an increasing number of attempts to silence women and diverse groups online through various forms abuse, ranging from but not limited to revenge porn, doxing, harassment and mob-style trolling. There was one young girl in the UK who was subjected to online abuse, body shaming and harassment because she said “I hate hummus”. 

Driving women out of public space is no new thing. But I agree with National Democratic Institute online abuse and harassment is a new challenge to democracy, digital inclusion, progress towards gender equality, as well as the integrity of the information space.

I cannot stand here without talking about Diane Abbott, the UK’s first black woman MP and current shadow Home secretary. Not only does Diane Abbott top the list of MPs for largest number of abusive tweets received, but she received ten times more abuse than any other woman MP.

Many women have contacted myself and Dianne Abbott telling us they are seriously re-thinking a career in politics because they see the abuse politicians that look similar to them receive.

So I founded Glitch! UK, an organisation aiming to end online hate speech and online violence against women and girls. The Cambridge Dictionary defines glitch as…

“a problem or fault that prevents something from being successful or working as well as it should”.

We believe this both sums up the current state of the internet and social media but is also a malfunction that can be fixed.

So Glitch! UK: Campaigns, Collaborates and Educates

We lobby social media companies and governments to do more to stop online abuse. We have developed a set of recommendations for social media platforms and deliver training workshops for young people, women who are in politics and those who aspire to have a career in public life.

We have 5 approaches to combating online violence which organisations and governments can also adopt and I’m happy to go in to some more detail during the Q&A..   

  1. Raise awareness of online abuse, that it is a growing problem and it’s has a culminate impact.
    • Amnesty International recently published a report on the impact of online abuse around the world. I’m proud to have been a media spokesperson for this report.
    • 23% of the women surveyed said they had experienced online abuse or harassment at least once.
    • 41% feared for their physical safety.
    • More than 3/4 of women made some changes to the way they use social media platformsas a result of online abuse.
  1. Increasing knowledge and understanding of rights online. 

FarGenetic Engineering for Dummies (11) too many women in politics are led to believe the misogyny and racist behavior online is part of the role.

  • What has proven effective so far is raising awareness of rights online and identifying ways social media companies can address online abuse Women feel more confident to identify and report abuse, they understand the glitches have joined the movement to end online violence.


3. Lobby for transparency, better self-regulation of all social media companies

4. There is a significant problem with law enforcement across the world not taking reports of online violence seriously.

  • I’m pleased that in April this year, Mayor of London Sadiq Khan launched the Online Hate Crime Hub. These key skills need to be shared with all police offices to help ensure women are not being prevented from reporting online abuse. 

    5. Training

    • For young people so they can better understand online abuse and how they can act as good online citizens
    • For those who work with young people so they can spot the signs – rather than just issuing bans on phones and websites in schools.
    • Training for women in politics and those aspiring to have career in public life.
    • We must train online tech companies and those developing apps and social media platforms. They must learn from the mistakes and glitches of current social media. 

As I draw to a close I’d like to talk about diversity and inclusion when combating online violence against women in politics.

When talking about the online abuse women and politically active women face we must be intersectional and look at women with multiple identities. I don’t just face misogyny I face racism too or as Academic Moya Bailey calls it

We need diversity within tech companies both of engineers and the moderators. When reporting online abuse users are faced with a very white male reporting system and response.

Finally, there is responsibility on women and men in politics to advocate and be inclusive of all women engaging with the online space. Yes these women are activists and politicians but they are also journalists, models, bloggers, mums, senior leaders in companies and the future generation. We must stand up for their right to be a woman online too.

Thank you for listening!






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Glitch is a UK registered charity. Charity number: 1187714
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