Misogynoir: How social media abuse exposes longstanding prejudices against black women- Newstatesman Article

Written by Journalist Maya Goodfellow in The Newstateman

“Which STD will end your miserable life?” “This is why monkeys don’t belong here.” “I hope you get lynched”. These are just some of the many messages Seyi Akiwowo, a Labour councillor in Newham, told me she has been sent over the past three weeks. Akiwowo has received reams of violent and racist abuse after a video of her suggesting former empires pay reparations to countries they once colonised (and whose resources they still continue to plunder) went viral. She doesn’t expect everyone to agree with her, she said, but people seem to think they’re entitled to hurl abuse at her because she’s a black woman.

The particular intensity of misogyny directed at black women is so commonplace that it was given a name by academic Moya Bailey: misogynoir. This was highlighted recently when Diane Abbott, the country’s first and most-well known black woman MP and current shadow Home secretary, spoke out about the violent messages she’s received and continues to receive. The messages are so serious that Abbott’s staff often fear for her safety. There is an implicit point in abuse like this: women of colour, in particular black women, should know their place. If they dare to share their opinions, they’ll be attacked for it… Read more here

Human Rights Day: Freedom of Expression is not a pass to be an online troll

Today is Human Rights Day a day observed by all around the world to commemorate the 10th December 1948, the date when the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Today also marks the end of #16daysactivism around the Elimination of Violence Against Women and Girls. This year Glitch!UK called for UK Government and all main political parties to officially recognise online abuse and harassment as a form of violence against women. During our campaign the question “when does freedom of speech become hate speech?” was asked several times. This philosophical question will be debated until the end of time. But for Glitch!UK the answer simple.
The right to freedom of expression is granted to all under Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and to all EU Citizens Article 10 of the European Convention of Human Rights. We believe you can express an opinion on topics and issues around the world without it being filled with hate or it be a personal attack.
It is possible have a robust and heated debate without descending to online abuse and harassment. Robust debate is necessary  in order to get to the core of the main points, challenge held beliefs and draw similarities and conclusion. It is important to go through this process in order for society to grow in tolerance and understanding, to evolve and recommit to core beliefs.
Freedom of expression is not a human right to spread any form of hate nor should it ever be.
Freedom of expression is also not a pass to discriminate, silence, abuse and harass women or individuals from diverse groups online. Social media companies must respect and do more to protect the rights of women and individuals from diverse groups to express themselves.
Sadly, this is not happening.
Amnesty International commissioned an Ipsos Mori poll which showed 23% of women across eight countries experienced online abuse or harassment.  Just over a fifth of women in Britain experienced online abuse and it is magnified for women of colour. There is an increasing number of attempts to silence women and individuals from diverse groups online through various forms abuse, ranging from but not limited to revenge porn, doxing, harassment and mob-style trolling. These are activists, politicians, journalists, models, bloggers, mums, senior leaders in companies and the future generation. This results in the withdrawal from expressing an opinion online out of fear of a violation of privacy and or safety and therefore a limitation of diversity online.
This is a new challenge to democracy, digital inclusion, progress towards gender equality, as well as the integrity of the information space that social media companies and governments must address and quickly. Maybe we should have the right to take social media companies to court for failing to address online abuse and harassment online?
When advocating for stricter enforcement of guidelines and terms and conditions on social media platforms we are simply calling for online platforms to be a safe place for all to use, all to express themselves free from hate speech, harassment, bullying and any personal abuse. Earlier this year we published a list of recommendations on how social media companies can begin to do this.
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.
Some of the main points of our workshops are to increase understanding of online abuse and our rights online so on Human Rights Day familiarise yourself and others about your rights online:
-> Freedom to express an opinion or image of yourself without fear of being silenced, abused and or harassed.
-> Right to report all abuse and harassment directly to social media companies who then must investigate it.
– >Right to report abuse and harassment to the police and for officers to treat it as a crime. If officers don’t you then have the right to complain.
-> In the UK online hate speech is now treated the same as hate speech said in a physical public space.
As with all rights there comes responsibility. When it comes to the right to express yourself the responsibility must be to be respectful, tolerant, and not to spread hate. If you agree, sign up our Glitch!UK Pledge.

#16Days: Officially Recognise Online Abuse as a Form of Violence Against Women

Online violence against women and girls and online hate speech is a glitch in our online world and social media companies can and must fix it #GlitchUK (13)
We ask The Conservative Party, The Labour Party, The Liberal Democrats, The Green Party and the Women’s Equality Party to recognise online abuse & harassment as a form of violence against women and demand better self-regulation from social media companies. Who will say yes first?

On the 16th and final day of commemorating the international campaign to Eliminate Violence Against Women, the UK Government and UK political parties should lead the way in treating online violence against women and girls in the same way as physical violence.

We urge the political parties to include educational training workshops as part of their manifesto commitments.

We need training for young people so they can understand what online abuse means and how they can act as good citizens. This should be extended for those who work with young people so they can spot the signs – rather than just issuing bans on phones and websites in schools.

We must train online tech companies and those developing apps and social media platforms. They must learn from the mistakes of current social media companies. There are current attempts to fix the online abuse glitch but new platforms should not have these glitches in the first place.

Finally, but by no means least, all political parties must demand that social media companies be more accountable and be more transparent with how they enforce their own rules.

Sign one of these pledges, share this on social media and encourage at least three of your friends to do the same:

I pledge never to commitment, condone, or remain silent about online violence against women and online hate speech in all its form #GlitchUK”

“I pledge to join the movement to end online violence against women and online hate speech in my lifetime #GlitchUK”

Anti-Social Media – The OverTake Article

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“Social media has been a powerful ally for women in the past month. The online outcry about sexual harassment shocked the world into seeing abuse towards women as distressingly commonplace. In this instance, Twitter served as an empowering space – it provided solidarity and an encouraging environment where women could break their silence. It can achieve a tremendous amount of good.

We must not forget, however, that social media is also a toxic enabler. The inequality and violence that women still face in our society is often replicated within these online communities. Charlie Brooker may have exaggerated the deadly power of Twitter in a horrifying episode of Black Mirror but the capability of social media to enable violence is a frighteningly real issue.”

…”By allowing online abuse to continue on this scale, we risk a generation of women who refuse to challenge the status quo in order to preserve their mental health. Criado Perez urges women subject to online abuse to try their best to keep going.

“These threats come from a place of fear. These men are scared of our voices. The only way to get over this is to keep speaking up until women speaking in the public sphere is so normal, it’s no longer seen as a threat.”

… “East London politician Seyi Akiwowo had a similar experience of unsolicited abuse in response to an online video of her speech at the European Parliament. She explains the emotional impact of the misogynistic and racial abuse.

“I was so overwhelmed by it all. Looking back, even though I went into fighter mode, wellbeing wise – I wasn’t okay. It was obvious that the harassment affected me which is surprising because I have always been a big believer in the saying ‘sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.’ This is so not true. Words hurt and hateful words lead to hateful action,” she says.

In 2011, Copenhagen student Emma Holten awoke to her private naked photos and personal information uploaded onto the internet for the world to see. The images were distributed across multiple websites and she received hundreds of sexually explicit threats. Holten tells The Overtake about her mental health following the distressing experience.”

Full Article on The Overtake

My piece in LabourList: Today is the day Labour must renew its determination to end online violence against women and girls

Earlier this year I received a wave of hateful online abuse and harassment after a video of me speaking 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 elsewhere.

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

That’s why I founded Glitch! UK, an organisation aiming to end online hate speech and online violence against women and girls (OVAWG). Glitch believes that online violence of all forms is a vehicle to divide society and spread fear. Glitch means a temporary malfunction. This glitch of online abuse can of course be fixed and, when we look back on this period of time, we want to be able to say that the rise in online violence and hate speech was only a “glitch” in our history.

Through Glitch, we lobby social media companies to do more to stop online abuse. We have developed a set of recommendations for those firms and we are delivering training workshops for young people. In 2018 will be training online tech companies too.

Earlier this year Diane Abbott, shadow home secretary and Britain’s first black female MP, spoke out about the online abuse she receives on a daily basis. The abuse is so serious that her staff try not to let her out alone.  Sadly, Abbott is not the only MP to receive online abuse, Yvette Cooper, Jess Philips, Tulip Siddiq and David Lammy are only a few of the name names on this list.

In September Amnesty International provided more evidence of the problem. Abbott received almost half (45.14 per cent) of all abusive tweets in the run up to the election. Excluding her, black and Asian women MPs in Westminster received 35 per cent more abusive tweets than white women MPs. Online abuse cuts across party lines, however.

A week later MPs debated abuse and intimidation during the election campaign. Online abuse does not just stop with those in elected office. We have unfortunately seen a rise in online abuse and harassment among party members. Labour’s national executive committee (NEC) agreed to toughen up the party’s stance on internet abuse and published a new social media code of conduct. 

Read the full article on LabourList

Amnesty’s Evidence Supports the Experiences of Women + Girls facing online violence- and I’m proud to be a part of it.

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In order to end online violence against all women and girls there needs to be a global movement of activists, organisations, policy-makers, individuals, law enforcement and social media companies raising awareness of the issues of online abuse and working to fix this glitch. There’s also a need for mobilising and working in partnership with other organisations, activists and survivors to amplify our voices, increase our impact and avoid duplication.

That is why after Everyday Sexism’s Laura Bates email introduced me to Azmina Dhrodia, Researcher, Technology and Human Rights at Amnesty and her research assignment into online abuse and harassment I was more than willing to help where I can. There was some initial hesitation because who wants to receive a storm of abuse twice in a lifetime let alone twice in a year. However, my experience is an example of the experience many women particularly women of colour face online and it’s a story that doesn’t get heard too often. Therefore I felt the responsibility to bring context to the research.

Key Findings

Amnesty International commissioned an IPSOS MORI poll which looked at the experiences of women between the ages of 18 and 55 in Denmark, Italy, New Zealand, Poland, Spain, Sweden, the UK and USA.

23%  of the women surveyed across these eight countries said they had experienced online abuse or harassment at least once, ranging from 16% in Italy to 33% in the US. 22% of women in the UK experienced online abuse one or more times. Online violence & abuse magnified for women from ethnic minority backgrounds.

Online abuse has a silencing or censoring effect on women with more than 3/4 (76%) of women across the eight countries who had experienced abuse or harassment on social media making some changes to the way they use social media platforms as a result.

Online abuse can manifest in different ways including threats of violence, privacy violations or sexist and misogynistic comments. Of women polled who had experienced online abuse or harassment, more than a quarter (26%) said they had received threats of physical or sexual assault

Online abuse can have a serious psychological impact with women reporting stress, anxiety or panic attacks as well as lower self-esteem as a result of the abuse. Around two-thirds of women who had experienced abuse or harassment online in the UK (67%) stated a feeling of apprehension when thinking about using the internet or social media.

In the UK 90% of women agree that online abuse is harmful to women. These responses show that for so many women around the world, the internet is simply not a safe space.Infographic.jpg

The psychological implications of experiencing online abuse remains under-researched, and as a result, understated. There is a misconception that because the abuse is online it can simply be ignored or shrugged off. However, in the UK and US, more than 3 times as many woman disagree (63% and 61%) than agree (19% in both countries) that online abuse and harassment can be stopped by just ignoring it. 

The assumption that online abuse is not ‘real’ also fails to consider the myriad of harms caused by online violence and abuse that ultimately contributes to women being silenced and denied their right to freely express themselves online.

Dr. Emma Short, a Psychologist and Reader in Cyber Psychology at the University of Bedfordshire, talked to me about the impact of online abuse. She explained,

“I think the impact of online abuse is greater because your victimization is broadcast for everyone to see. It’s often joined by a third party so the crowd or pack is going after you. So, very quickly, it feels as though the whole world is after you. There might be positive tweets, you might have lots of friends on the outside, but if the crowd has turned against you and is after you, it feels like the world wishes you harm.”

Almost 1/3, or 32%, of the women polled who use Facebook stated that the company’s response to dealing with abuse or harassment online was inadequate.

Twitter did not fare much better. Almost 30% of women polled who are Twitter users stated the company’s response to abuse or harassment was inadequate, including 43% of women users in the UK. 

So what next?

Research like this is important as it provides evidence of the online violence millions of women are facing. It is therefore important for policy-makers and social media companies to support, invest and respond to the research.

Women like Laura Bates Founder of Everyday Sexism and Pamela Merritt Co-Founder of Reproaction have shared their experiences, organisation such as Amnesty International, Plan International and NSPCC have provided great research and statistics to support these experiences, so what is going to happen next? How will social media companies and governments action on this compelling research?

We need to immediately acknowledge that that language matters, words are powerful and hateful words can be used to mobilise against a group of people. Therefore, we must challenge the rhetoric of “oh it’s just words, ignore them” by instead saying “no words do have an impact and negative online activity can and does extend into real world.” Social media companies must be held more accountable and be transparent with how they self-regulate and enforce their own rules.

As we embark on International Day of the Elimination of Violence Against Women on 25th November Government leaders, organisations and activists officially acknowledge Online Violence Against Women and Girls (OVAWG). The UK Government should lead the way in combating OVAWG.

We need specific educational training workshops, for young people so they can understand what online abuse means, it’s impact and how they can be better online citizens. Training workshops for those that work with and look after young people is also required to help them spot the signs rather than just banning website and phones in schools. Instead teachers, parents, carers and those that work with young people need support in order to provide young people with the tools to be able to help young people be better online citizens.

There needs to be training workshops for local police officers so they are supporting those that willing to report and take action against online abuse and harassment. I’m pleased that in April this year, Sadiq Khan launched the Online Hate Crime Hub. My online abuse case was escalated to one of the fantastic Detective Inspectors who managed my case diligently. These key skills need to be shared to those front line police officers like those that manage our local police stations.

Finally, but by no means least, we must train online tech companies and those developing new apps and social media platforms. They must learn from the mistakes and glitches of current social media platforms. There are current attempts to fix the online abuse glitch within these sites and apps but moving forward we should have new apps and new social media platforms that don’t have these glitches in the first place.

Finally but by no means least, we must train online tech companies and those developing new apps and social media platforms. They must learn from the mistakes and glitches of  current social media platforms. What this research, campaigns and Community Guidelines reform attempt to fix the online abuse glitch within these sites and apps. Moving forward we should aim to have apps and new social media platforms that don’t have these glitches in the first place.

Unsocial Media: Tracking Twitter Abuse against Women MPs

By Azmina Dhrodia, Researcher, Technology and Human Rights

At Amnesty, we’ve been investigating the extent of online abuse against women MPs active on Twitter in the UK through individual interviews and by using machine learning to detect abusive tweets sent to women MPs. The findings outlined in this post provide a detailed look at abuse on Twitter in the run-up to the 2017 election — in which Diane Abbott’s case stands out for all the wrong reasons.

The online abuse she and other women MPs experience sits in a wider context of pervasive and damaging attacks against women from all walks of life on social media platforms. For the last eight months I’ve been speaking to journalists, activists, bloggers, comic book writers, comedians and women active in all levels of politics and public life to hear about their experiences of abuse on social media platforms. I’ve had numerous long chats with women in cafés, parks, hotel lobbies, at youth centres or via Skype, and each time I hear the same message. Twitter can be a scary place for women online. Whether women use social media platforms as public figures or for personal use, the threat of abuse is all too real and it is having a silencing effect on women’s participation online and in the public sphere.

Read the full article here

Glitch!UK Mentioned in Parliament

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On 7th September 2017, newly elected Rosie Duffield Labour Member for Parliament for Canterbury used her Maiden Speech in Parliament during the European Union (Withdrawal) Debate to highlight online abuse. 

It is a great privilege to make my maiden speech as part of this special and important debate. Many people—especially me—were completely stunned on the morning of 9 June to wake up and find that a new red dot had appeared on the previously entirely blue political map of Kent. I am still recovering from the shock, but am also determined to bring as much positive difference as I possibly can during my time in this place.

Before I speak a little more about my constituency, I want to mention the so-called “trolling” of my, mostly female, colleagues over the summer. I have already experienced a fair amount of trolling myself. This ranges from ill-informed, badly researched articles published as fact to unpleasant personal messages late at night, and vile, vitriolic insults from a small, but persistent, handful of activists from other parties posted online.

I acknowledge the efforts being made by the inspirational women in Parliament who are working hard to raise this issue and are fighting against it even though that usually results in much more abuse being thrown their way. I want to make special mention of my friend, the Newham councillor Seyi Akiwowo, who has endured, fought back against and now campaigns against the lowest form of racial abuse; and, of course, Labour’s shadow Home Secretary, who has shown incredible  dignity and remarkable strength in the face of the most unacceptable and disgusting abuse over her decades in this House.

Groups such as Glitch UK* and Reclaim the Internet, led by my colleague my right hon. Friend the Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper) and many of my other friends and colleagues in this House, are deserving of our support. We must continue to fight against this and highlight the problem; it is entirely possible to engage in passionate political debate without resorting to name-calling, death threats and abusive language. Let us restore respect and manners to our online behaviour.

As the first woman ever to have been elected in Canterbury and as a single mother, I want to be a champion for equality not only for women, but for the disabled, people of every ethnic and racial background, the young and the old, the LGBT community and people of all faiths and none. It is a scandal that in this day and age there is still inequality in pay and discrimination in many forms. All such prejudice has no place in our society; I will challenge and fight it wherever I find it.

You can watch Rosie’s full speech on YouTube

It is quite befitting that Glitch!UK was mentioned during the European Union (Withdrawal) Debate given that it was a video of speech Seyi made at the European Parliament in Strasbourg that later went viral and the online abuse started. Thank you Rosie for highlighting online abuse in your Maiden Speech, supporting Glitch!UK and name checking us in Parliament.

*Cool fact: this means Glitch!UK is now in hansard- official Parliament document forever and ever!

My Visit to St. Winiefride’s RC School

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After it was revealed that a local primary school in Newham had asked it’s pupils to come to school dressed as slaves to mark the 30th Anniversary of Black History Month myself and Cllr Beckles took these actions and on of them was to meet with the headteacher of St. Winiefride’s RC School.

James and I were keen to hear the school’s side of the story and put forward our view for how they could move forward to cover Black History Month in a more holistic way.

On the morning of the 31st October we arrived at St. Winefride’s and were greeted by Paul Underwood the Headteacher of the school, we were also introduced to the Deputy Headteacher, School Governors including the Chair of Governors, a parent governor and a representative from the diocese.

The meeting was cordial and we were given a background to the incident in question. During the meeting we were shown a portfolio of Black History Month activities that had been planned for this year and told about successful BHM events that had happened in previous years. There was the sense that this incident had shocked and embarrassed the school and the reputational damage would be very hard to live down despite work done in previous years. Seyi and I set out our initial reaction to what had happened and the need for us to speak up about this incident as elected representatives. We also offered advice about how this might be avoided in the future, how to embed diversity, intersectionality and black history throughout the curriculum and the year.  James and I also spoke about how the school could work to become a lead in delivering quality UK Black History , working with the local community, parents and teachers. To their credit the school were very receptive to our ideas and will follow up  on some of these. They are reviewing their procedures to avoid a similar incident in the future.

Although these measures could not take away from what occurred it did show consideration and understanding of the situation and a need to repair trust with parents. We cannot say what the outcome of any investigation on the teacher will be and it isn’t our place to pass judgement here. But we came away with a sense the school wants to work with us and move past this incident. They also, crucially, do not want a repeat of what happened.

Before leaving the school we were given a tour, where we met a number of students and their teachers. Like most schools in Newham, St. Winefride’s has a diverse school population and there was, on first impressions, an indication the school sought to reflect and celebrate that.

On a separate but related note please consider signing this petition to have Black History taught in schools. 

Follow up on Newham Black History Month

After it was revealed that a local primary school in Newham had asked it’s pupils to come to school dressed as slaves to mark the 30th Anniversary of Black History Month myself and Cllr Beckles took the following actions:

  • We wrote joint statement  expressing our disappointment
  • We wrote to Sir Robin Wales asking for an urgent meeting to discuss relaunching Newham Black History Month
  • We wrote to the Headteacher of St Winefride’s Catholic Primary School asking to meet (we will be meeting tomorrow morning).
  • We’ve organised an open event with Paula Perry, Co-Author of UK Black History teaching guide on Monday 13th November.

Through social media, emails and phone calls we know many, many residents are interested in this and are keen to be kept updated. We’ll do our very best to share regular updates.

On Thursday 26th October, Councillor James Beckles and I met with the Mayor of Newham, Sir Robin Wales and the Cabinet member for Equalities, Tahmina Rahman. Ahead of our meeting we prepared a PowerPoint presentation, Newham Black History Month 2018-2022 Plan with a plan for reinstating Newham Black History Month through some quick wins and long term planning. This was presented to both the Mayor and Tahmina. At the heart of our presentation was a draft set of ideas for a five year plan which if implemented would make the preparation, commissioning and delivery of Black History Month in Newham part of the Council’s work and involving the community. The Cabinet had a week before agreed to set up a working group to explore how best to celebrate Black History Month in the future. This was a positive step but to go further the group will need buy-in at both political and leadership level, both points Seyi and I raised.

We set out how best we could work with this new working group, one of many suggestions was to make it an “action group” so it would be focused and proactive with clear objectives around the delivery of a growing and sustainable model that would mean Black History Month in Newham is relevant, educational and informative.

It won’t be an easy task but me and Seyi are prepared to play our part in getting this group off the ground, developing a plan that is inclusive, informative and more importantly steers us away from the misconceptions held by some about what Black History Month is and should be about.

Two years ago a small group including myself, James, Darren Steer and Rokhsana Fiaz, held a well attended Black History Month discussion. We did that on a very limited budget with good will from UEL/Birkbeck and high profile speakers. It just took will and commitment. We are hoping for the same now going forward. Just imagine what more a local authority could achieve, not just with financial resources and leadership but via a range of partnerships.

In terms of next steps the action group has been tasked to set objectives for Newham Black History Month and we’re waiting to hear from Tahmina and the Mayor, hopefully this week. We will do our very best to ensure that Newham Black History Month is another legacy we can be proud of in our borough.