Glitch!UK is a new, thriving and internationally known non-for-profit organisation with a mission to end online abuse in the UK. ‘Glitch’ is defined as ‘a temporary malfunction’. When we look back on this period of time, we want to be able to say that the rise in online abuse was only a ‘glitch’ in our history.
Glitch!UK began as an online initiative in April 2017 after the Founder and Director, Seyi Akiwowo, faced horrendous online abuse. A video of a speech Seyi gave at the European Parliament went viral and months later Seyi was a target of abuse across multiple social media platforms. The Glitch!UK initiative has been shared in the media, at conferences, mentioned in Parliament and supported by organisations such as Feminist Internet, Plan International and the Anne Frank Trust UK.
Glitch!UK is not about imposing restrictions on how we use social media or censoring our right to free speech and freedom of expression. This submission outlines forms of online abuse including hate speech, its impact and consequences through an intersectional lens. This submission also outlines key recommendations such as digital citizenship education and best practice.
Although the UK does not recognise misogyny as a hate crime, we define misogyny as the hatred of, contempt for, or prejudice against women or girls. We believe it is important to be intersectional when talking about forms online abuse and hate crime, particularly misogynoir. Glitch!UK believes that online abuse can become a dangerous vehicle for movements to further divide society and spread fear so we must work together to #fixtheglitch.
In today’s digital age, the Internet and digital spaces are rapidly creating new social digital spaces and transforming how individuals meet, communicate and interact, and as a result more generally reshaping society as a whole. Most recently digital spaces like social media platforms have become unfriendly, unsafe and toxic, particularly for people of colour (1), women and historically underrepresented groups. Online abuse takes many forms and we have seen a particular increase in online gender based violence (2) and online hate speech (3). We believe this has been a consequence of, and enabled by, a number of events:
- Rise of far right movements across Europe
- Increased polarisation within societies
- Rhetoric used during the UK European Union Independence referendum (4)
- Rhetoric used during recent political elections including the 2016 United States Presidential Election
- The failure of social media companies to adequately and consistently address online abuse as well as ensuring safety of all users
- Lack of diversity within technology and the digital engineering
- Inconsistency within UK laws, requiring policy makers to play catch up with crimes in digital spaces and a gap between international legislations and implementation
- Underreporting of incidents to the police and lack of robust commitment from the criminal justice system to prosecute
The Situation: The Glitch
Digital spaces have been used directly as a tool for making threats of physical and/or sexual violence, rape, killing, hate speech, unwanted and harassing online communications, or even the encouragement of others to harm women and people of colour physically. It may also involve the dissemination of reputation-harming lies, electronic sabotage in the form of spam and malignant viruses, impersonation of the victim online and the sending of abusive emails or spam, blog posts, tweets or other online communications in the victim’s name (5).
Forms of online abuse
Doxing refers to the publication of private information, such as contact details, on the Internet with malicious intent. It includes situations where personal information and data retrieved by a perpetrator is made public with malicious intent, clearly violating the right to privacy.
Trolling is the posting of messages, uploading of images or videos and creation of hashtags for the purpose of annoying, provoking or inciting violence against women and girls. Many “trolls” are anonymous and use false accounts to generate hate speech.
Online mobbing and harassment refer to the online equivalents of mobbing or harassment on social platforms, the Internet, in chat rooms, instant messaging and mobile communications.
Online stalking is the repeated harassment of individuals, perpetrated by means of mobile phones or messaging applications, in the form of crank calls or private conversations on online applications (such as WhatsApp) or in online chat groups.
Online hate speech is a type of speech that takes place online (e.g. the Internet, social media platforms) with the purpose to attack a person or a group on the basis of attributes such as race, religion, ethnic origin, sexual orientation, disability, or gender.
All the above-mentioned forms of online abuse create a permanent digital record that can be distributed worldwide and cannot be easily deleted, which may result in further victimisation of the individual(s) targeted.
It is important to distinguish from heated debated online and freedom of expression with online abuse and hate speech. Online abuse is not about robust debate. It’s about intentional harassment of individuals to force them to leave the digital space, particularly social media, modify their behaviour and create self-censors. Sending racist abuse, rape threats and sharing a video without someone’s consent are clear red lines. Once we tackle this distinction, then we can turn our attention to the remarks that are not so clear cut.
It is also important to say that social media companies must respect and do more to protect the right of women and diverse groups to express themselves online. We have outlined recommendations in our Fix the Glitch Report: How Social Media Companies can better address online abuse (6).
The Impact of Online Abuse and Online Hate Speech
Online abuse and online hate speech has a significant impact on individuals, communities and our societal values. These consequences can be broken into two key themes: health and wellbeing and democracy and human rights.
Health and Wellbeing
Online abuse has a serious psychological impact with victims reporting stress, anxiety or panic attacks as well as lower self-esteem as a result of the abuse. Amnesty International’s research showed, 67% of women who had experienced abuse or harassment online in the UK stated a feeling of apprehension when thinking about using the internet or social media. Around 1 in 8 young people have been bullied on social media (7) with 57% of young people believing they were bullied because of their appearance, 9% because of their race and 9% because of their sexuality (8). We are also concerned by the increase in the reporting of young suicide and the increase in NHS treatment for self harm cases. Obtaining a breakdown of NHS figures by demographic would provide further insight and clarity.
Democracy and Human Rights
The online world can be seen as either an extension or a mirror of offline realities and therefore violations of human rights and threats to our democracy also happen online. Over a third (34%) of Black, Asian or minority ethnic people (BAME) witnessed or experienced racial abuse in the seven months following the Brexit vote in June 2016, a TUC poll has found (9). In 2017, Metropolitan Police Sergeant said, “Every time there is a terrorist atrocity, we record a peak in hate crimes reported” (10).
Online abuse and online hate speech not only violate a individual’s right to live free from violence and to participate online but also undermine democratic exercise and good governance, and as such create a democratic deficit. Diane Abbott, the UK’s first black woman MP and current shadow Home secretary, not only tops the list of MPs for largest number of abusive tweets received, but she received ten times more abuse than any other woman MP. Former 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.
Black people reported far more incidents of being harassed online simply for being black, rather than in response to any particular view or comment (11). Many women have contacted Seyi Akiwowo and Diane Abbott telling them they are seriously re-thinking a career in politics because they see the abuse politicians that look similar to them receive.
Democracy only works when representatives reflect their communities and online abuse is becoming an additional barrier for women and people of colour standing for public office positions.
A Tell MAMA report identified 45% of anti-Muslim hate crime took place online, and the organisation is seeing up to 80% of its resources used in monitoring online hate and supporting the victims. Community Security Trust reports 17% of anti-Semitic incidents took place on social media (12). Again, democracy rests on the engagement of all citizens including via online platforms. The reported use of bots by foreign governments and extreme right-wing groups will not only further exacerbate human rights violations and threats to our democracy but cause further divisions and echo chambers.
Digital Citizenship Education Provision
We cannot afford for our generation and the next to become desensitised to any form of hate crimes. We want to cultivate the agency of young people and we want to start a conversation about the importance of our generation being responsible citizens online. Educational institutions should take cyber-bulling more seriously and be supported to respond to bullying driven by any form of hate robustly.
Digital citizenship needs to be central to education, taught universally and from a young age. The need for more intensive delivery of digital citizenship education is now recognised around the world from UNESCO to the House of Lords in the UK. Programmes like Internet Citizens by Institute of Structured Dialogue and Glitch!UK’s Digital Citizenship aim to raise the agency of young people to use digital technology online confidently, respectfully and positively online. Digital citizenship education provides young people with an understanding of the forms of online abuse, including online hate speech, its impacts and consequences. It also prepares young people to navigate a constantly changing digital space as well as build a positive online community.
Elements of Glitch!UK’s Digital Citizenship programme include: Digital etiquette, law and security; digital rights and responsibilities; digital health, wellbeing and critical thinking.
National and Local Governments
Ahead of the UN Elimination of Violence Against Women Day on 25th November, all states and political parties should acknowledge online violence as a form of violence against women (13).
We also recommend that the the UK Government and the Criminal Justice System capture all evidence on online abuse and online hate speech and produce annual reports. The UK Government should make a commitment to the collection of data, on a regular basis, on different forms of online violence against women, people of colour and other diverse groups. This can provide evidence for the development of policy responses and action on the ground.
We recommend that the UK Government ensure social media companies pull in additional resources to moderate their platforms when there has been a major terrorist attack and in the days following.
National and local government can help increase community cohesion in the face of rising hate crime and hate speech by raising awareness of what constitutes as a hate crime, including online hate crime, its impact and the consequences.
Regional governments can join the calls for social media companies to consistently enforce their terms and conditions as well as learn from The Mayor of London’s Online Hate Crime programme. This programme enables detectives to investigate all forms of online hate crime. (14).
In September 2017, Former Home Secretary, Amber Rudd announced a UK-wide online hate crime hub but has been given very few resources and there has been no further announcement. We recommend that the current Home Secretary honours the commitment of his predecessor and priorities a UK- wide online hate crime hub.
Finally devolved governments can create and in some instances enforce an online code of a conduct for their staff, schools and community groups, as well as commission the delivery digital citizenship programmes.
Part of the London Online Hate Crime Hub Programme’s objectives is to train other police officers to better deal with online hate crime. This is vital. Anecdotal evidence suggests that law enforcement is not routinely taking allegations of stalking or coercive control seriously, particularly in relation to online behaviour.
We recommend that all police officers are trained to understand online hate crime, follow recent Crown Prosecution Service guidelines changes, and treat online hate crime as seriously as hate crime committed face to face. New Crown Prosecution Service guidance means stronger penalties for abuse on all social media platforms and hopes to offer more support and protection to victims than ever before.
Organisations, charities, unions and places of work
We can all significantly change the nature, scale, and effect of the intimidation of diverse groups in digital spaces. We recommend that community organisations and charities seek training to better understand online abuse and online hate speech, as well as ensure their organisation have a strong online code of conduct for all their staff, particularly if their organisation have a social media group.
Additional Recommendations and Best Practice
We recommend that hate based on gender, including misogynistic speech, should be considered a hate crime. Internet intermediaries can be more transparent, more diverse and follow a code of conduct to high standards (15).
The General Policy Recommendation No. 15 on combating hate speech of the European Commission Against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) recommends a coherent and comprehensive approach to combating hate speech, covering legal and administrative measures; self-regulatory mechanisms; effective monitoring; victim support; awareness raising and educational measures.
The “Network Enforcement Bill” (19/13013) adopted in Germany on 30 June 2017, calls on Internet providers to asses and remove hate speech content within 24 hours after being reported. Review of complex cases may take one week and can be referred to an independent body of self-regulation. It’s the first example of national authority enforcing legislation on combating illegal hate speech online and many of its modalities are still being shaped. Glitch!UK recommends that the UK Government involves individuals with experience and expertise from protected characteristics to inform policy to ensure freedom of speech for all is protected.
In ECRI’s GPR 15 on Combating Hate Speech recommendations 6 and 7 provide general principles for a self-regulatory body, which should adopt comprehensive code of conduct that can be enforced, be transparent and known, include monitoring and complaints mechanisms with possibility for appeal and ensure sufficient training of staff.
In 2015 the Austrian Government amended the Criminal Code to include online offences like cyber-bullying, cyber-mobbing, online-stalking, insults, hate speech and personal defamations which are now punishable by law (16).
The Portuguese Government has strengthened its cooperation between countries to fight the use of new technologies to commit crimes (17).
The French Government has launched PHAROS, a reporting platform that allows citizens to report on abuse suffered online. Reports are processed by police assigned to the platform (18).
The UK Government can adopt the recommendations in the UN Special Rapporteur’s report, particularly the call to improve gender-disaggregated data on the prevalence and harms of online abuse and this data collection should also be intersectional (19).
Both governments and internet intermediaries should fully resource and support civil society organisations raising awareness, providing support, training and capacity building to women and other historically underrepresented groups.
(1) Pew Research; 1 in 4 black Americans have faced online harassment because of their race or ethnicity: http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2017/07/25/1-in-4-black-americans-have-faced-online-harassment-because-of-their-race-or-ethnicity/
(2) Report of the Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences on online violence against women and girls from a human rights perspective: https://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Women/SRWomen/Pages/AnnualReports.aspx
(3) In 2015/16 it completed 15,442 hate crime prosecutions, the highest number it has ever recorded http://www.report-it.org.uk/files/hate_crime_report_1.pdf
(4) 1 in 3 BAME people have witnessed or experienced racist abuse since Brexit vote, finds TUC poll: https://www.tuc.org.uk/news/1-3-bame-people-have-witnessed-or-experienced-racist-abuse-brexit-vote-finds-tuc-poll
(5) Report of the Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences on online violence against women and girls from a human rights perspective: https://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Women/SRWomen/Pages/AnnualReports.aspx
(6) Fix the Glitch Report: How Social Media Companies can better address online abuse: http://www.bit.ly/GlitchUKRecommendations
(7) NSPCC Online abuse Facts and statistics https://www.nspcc.org.uk/preventing-abuse/child-abuse-and-neglect/online-abuse/facts-statistics/
(8) Ditch the Label Annual Bullying Survey 2018: https://www.ditchthelabel.org/research-papers/the-annual-bullying-survey-2018/
(9) 1 in 3 BAME people have witnessed or experienced racist abuse since Brexit vote, finds TUC poll: https://www.tuc.org.uk/news/1-3-bame-people-have-witnessed-or-experienced-racist-abuse-brexit-vote-finds-tuc-poll
(10) The Guardian, Hate crime surged in England and Wales after terrorist attacks https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2017/oct/17/hate-soars-in-england-and-wales
(11)Pew Research; 1 in 4 black Americans have faced online harassment because of their race or ethnicity: http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2017/07/25/1-in-4-black-americans-have-faced-online-harassment-because-of-their-race-or-ethnicity/
(13 )Glitch!UK News + update, https://seyiakiwowo.com/2017/11/30/my-piece-in-labourlist-today-is-the-day-labour-must-renew-its-determination-to-end-online-violence-against-women-and-girls/
(14) Mayor launches new unit to tackle online hate crime 24th April 2017, Press Release https://www.london.gov.uk/press-releases/mayoral/mayor-launches-unit-to-tackle-online-hate-crime
(15) Glitch!UK, Our Recommendations April 2017, https://seyiakiwowo.com/2017/04/13/twitter-and-youtube-do-more-to-deal-with-your-trolls/
(16) European Women’s Lobby Her Net Her Rights Report 2017 https://www.womenlobby.org/IMG/pdf/hernetherrights_report_2017_for_web.pdf
(19) Report of the Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences on online violence against women and girls from a human rights perspective 2018 https://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Women/SRWomen/Pages/AnnualReports.aspx
38th session of the Human Rights Council
Annual full-day discussion on the human rights of women
Panel 1: The impact of violence against women human rights defenders and
women’s organizations in digital spaces
Founder and Director, Glitch!UK’s Seyi Akiwowo’s Intervention Notes
First, I am honoured to have been invited by the President of the United Nation’s Human Rights Commission, Vojislav Šuc to participate at in the 38th Human Rights Council’s annual full day discussion on the human rights of women. I am extremely pleased that the theme is the Impact of Violence Against Women Human Rights Defenders and Women Organisations in Digital Spaces. I also must thank and praise the United Nation Special Rapporteur for Violence Against Women, Dubravka Šimonović for her strong and comprehensive report on online violence against women, its causes and consequences against women and girls from a human rights perspective.
I will use my intervention today to help debunk 5 myths commonly used to dispute, disrupt and downgrade online violence and its harmful impact.
In 2017, after facing horrendous online violence when a video of my speech made at the European Parliament, as one of UK’s young British Nigerian politicians, went viral I founded Glitch!UK, a not-for-profit online abuse advocacy, campaigning and training organisation. Glitch!UK aims to end online abuse and harassment including online violence against women in politically active women. ‘Glitch’ means a temporary malfunction with equipment, and I used it for my organisations name because when we look back on this period in time I want us all to be able to say that the rise in online abuse was only a ‘glitch’ in our history.
In the last year, I have been fortunate to have met and/or worked with fantastic hardworking women human rights defenders and women organisations like, National Democratic Institute and their #NotTheCost campaign, Amnesty International’s #ToxicTwitter research, and the Association for Progressive Communications’ Take Back The Tech initiative. I have heard many heart-wrenching testimonies of the online violence both politically active and non-politically women have experienced. This tells me very loud and very clearly online violence against women is a multi-faceted and global problem. Therefore, solutions many outlined in the UN Special Rapporteur of Violence Against Women’s report, must to be multi-faceted into include digital technologies companies, Governments as well as civil society organisations.
However, there are many and most likely some in this very room that does not believe online violence exists let alone believe the impact on women.
- “‘Online violence’ actually doesn’t exist.”
It very much does. In Europe, 9 million girls have experienced some kind of online violence by the time they are 15 years old. Globally, women are 27 times more likely to be harassed online.
Online violence manifests in a multitude of forms including harassment, harassment across multiple social media platforms, online stalking, sharing of private information, trolling, non-consensual online dissemination of intimate images and sextortion. In some member states some forms are already a crime offline including online hate crime.
When talking about the online abuse women and politically active women face we must be intersectional and look at women with multiple identities. I not only face misogyny I am also faced with racism or as Academic Moya Bailey terms it misogynoir.
- “Addressing ‘online violence’ is infringing on individual’s rights to freedom of expression.”
Online violence is not robust debate. It is about intentional harassment of women to silence and force them to leave digital spaces. It is an attempt to modify women’s behaviour to conform to patriarchy and self-censorship.
There are some words and acts that are just clearly hateful and do not belong in robust debate. Sending racist abuse, rape threats and sharing an intimate video without someone’s consent are clear red lines. Once we address this, then we can turn our attention to remarks that are not so clear cut.
- “‘Online violence’ has no harmful impact”
Online violence has an impact on health and wellbeing, progress towards gender equality and is a threat to democracy.
Online violence against politically active women represents a direct barrier to women’s free speech and political participation. The anti-democratic impact of psychological abuse and other forms of violence through digital technology undermines a woman’s sense of personal security that leads to women’s self-censorship and withdrawal from public discourse and correspondence.
Evidence from around the world suggests that women in politics have experienced such violence and intimidation, and that their experiences have implications for their ability and willingness to participate actively in public life.  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.
- “There are no solutions”
We can all significantly change the nature, scale, and effect of the intimidation of politically active and non-politically active women in digital spaces.
Ahead of the UN Elimination of Violence Against Women Day on 25th November all states and political parties can acknowledge online violence as a form of violence against women.
Internet intermediaries can be more transparent, more diverse and follow a code of conduct of high standards.
The German Government now have powers to fine social media companies up to €50m for failing to remove illegal content within 24 hours.
Anecdotal evidence suggests that law enforcements are not routinely taking allegations of stalking or coercive control seriously, particularly in relation to online behaviour. There is a role for regional governments here too. Last year, Mayor of London Sadiq Khan launched the Online Hate Crime programme that investigates all forms of online hate crime.  The United Kingdom now treat offences committed online as if they happened in a public space. 
In 2015 Austrian Government amended the Criminal Code to include offences online such as cyber-bullying, cyber-mobbing, online-stalking, insults, hate speech and personal defamations which are now punishable by law.
The Portuguese Government have strengthened their cooperation between countries to fight the use of new technologies to commit crime. 
The French Government, have launched PHAROS a reporting platform that allows citizens to report on abuse suffered online. Reports are processed by police assigned to the platform
Member States today can adopt the recommendations in the UN Special Rapporteur’s report particularly the call to improve gender-disaggregated data on the prevalence and harms of online abuse.
Finally, both governments and internet intermediaries should fully resource and support civil society organisations raising awareness, providing support, training and capacity building to women and other historically underrepresented groups.
- “Citizenship cannot be extended to digital spaces”
Digital citizenship needs to be central to education, taught universally and from a young age.
The need for more intensive delivery of digital citizenship education is now recognised around the world from UNESCO to the House of Lords in the UK.
Programmes like Internet Citizens by Institute of Structured Dialogue, Glitch!UK’s Digital Citizenship aim to raise the agency of young people to use digital technology online confidently, respectfully and positively online.
Digital citizenship education provides young people with an understanding of the forms of online abuse (online bullying), its impact, consequences and prepares them to navigate a constantly changing digital space.
Driving women out of public space is no new thing. Online violence in public digital spaces is merely an extension of a reality, a reality lived by millions of women around the world. Nevertheless, by working together comprehensively we can #fixtheglitch. I hope this 38th Human Rights Council will be another marker in international action and we see significant commitments to ending all forms of online violence against all women, including political active women and women organisations.
 UN Broadband Commission for Digital Development, “Cyber Violence Against Women and Girls: A World- Wide Wake-Up Call”, 2015, Available online at: http://www.unwomen. org/-/media/headquarters/attachments/sections/library/ publications/2015/cyber_violence_gender%20report. pdf?vs=4259
 Maya Goodfellow 2017, Misogynoir: How social media abuse exposes longstanding prejudices against black women, https://www.newstatesman.com/politics/uk/2017/02/misogynoir-how-social-media-abuse-exposes-longstanding-prejudices-against-black
 Glitch!UK News + update, Human Rights Day 2017 https://seyiakiwowo.com/2017/12/10/humanrightday2017/
 National Democratic Institute, Evidence Paper, Review of the Committee on Standards in Public Life
into the Intimidation of Parliamentary Candidates https://www.ndi.org/sites/default/files/NDI%20UK%20Report.pdf
Amnesty International Report Online abuse of women widespread in UK https://www.amnesty.org.uk/online-abuse-women-widespread
 Glitch!UK News + update, https://seyiakiwowo.com/2017/11/30/my-piece-in-labourlist-today-is-the-day-labour-must-renew-its-determination-to-end-online-violence-against-women-and-girls/
 Glitch!UK, Our Recommendations April 2017, https://seyiakiwowo.com/2017/04/13/twitter-and-youtube-do-more-to-deal-with-your-trolls/
 Westminster Foundation for Democracy, Case Study: The United Kingdom Report 2018 http://www.wfd.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/UK-Case-Study-1.pdf
 Mayor launches new unit to tackle online hate crime 24th April 2017, Press Release https://www.london.gov.uk/press-releases/mayoral/mayor-launches-unit-to-tackle-online-hate-crime
 Hate is hate. Online abusers must be dealt with harshly
Alison Saunders 21st August 2017, https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/aug/20/hate-crimes-online-abusers-prosecutors-serious-crackdown-internet-face-to-face
 European Women’s Lobby Her Net Her Rights Report 2017 https://www.womenlobby.org/IMG/pdf/hernetherrights_report_2017_for_web.pdf
 Report of the Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences on online violence against women and girls from a human rights perspective 2018 https://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Women/SRWomen/Pages/AnnualReports.aspx
President Trump has announced the United States will leave the United Nations Human Rights Council a day before the 38th Human Rights Council session on the human rights of women.
We agree with Salil Shetty, Amnesty International’s Secretary General “while the Human Rights Council is by no means perfect and its membership is frequently under scrutiny, it remains an important force for accountability and justice.”
Two panel discussions have been scheduled for 38th Human Rights Council session, The impact of violence against women human rights defenders and women’s organizations in digital spaces and Advancing women’s rights through access and participation in information and communication technologies.
We agree with the statements shared by the United Human Rights Council, diplomats and nation leaders around the world. However we hope this announcement does not dominate, overshadow nor derail from the important work to be discussed this week. We share solidarity with all US Civil Society groups that will be affected by this announcement and those attending the 38th Human Rights Council session.
Heroism within social justice campaign movements is an entrenched ideology and leadership model my generation seems to have unconsciously inherited from male-led and male dominated campaigns. We urgently need to rethink this model as the only way to campaign and to lead. If we are going to make any real impact in our lifetime we must move to a coalition model of diverse leaders.
It is important to appreciate and celebrate bravery an remarkable activism, (but can we stop celebrating people doing basic anti-racist or anti-sexist activism please). The heroism I’m referring to is centering all activity around one person and placing them on a platform which means behaviour or actions can ever be questioned let alone challenged.
Of course calling for a coalition of leaders is easier said than done but it can be achieved. We’ve seen this with the diverse co-founders of Black Lives Matter, #Metoo in America and to some extent with March For Our Lives. Diversity of thought and perspective is invaluable to an an organisation, therefore the opposite, Groupthink can be disastrous.
Social movements, particularly feminist and anti-racist movements, shouldn’t have one face but a multiple diverse faces and experiences. I understand that to grow movements you need an authentic and compelling story or a triggering event. I’ve reluctantly learnt this through setting up Glitch!UK. I am continuously forced to share my story and be the face of Glitch!UK in order to open doors of opportunity and profile our work. However, I do not want to become the brand, I pulled together an diverse interim board of Trustees and I’m adamant to amplify other stories with the little platform we have. I am also committed to continue working in partnerships with like-minded organisation, this is a key value of our organisation.
It is human nature to want to be loved and adored and the way we are wired as human beings means it can be extremely addicting. If for example, you’re an individual, celebrity, social media star or socialite it’s acceptable to be in the headlines and the story be all about you. However, if an individual has committed themselves to championing a cause, a cause wider than them, then the ego must be checked on a frequent basis. A coalition of leadership will go some way in providing accountability and implementing checks and balances. If a leader is not willing to share their platform with other leaders or at least bring diversity to the decision making table then that itself is a warning sign. It’s a blemish of selfishness and ego that will grow and will be the cause of death of that movement sooner or later. If a leader or movement blocks any critique or questioning you’re not in a movement you’re in a cult.
I strongly recommend reading Black Leadership by Manning Marble. Here is one of my favourite lines:
“But it may be the measurement of our ability to achieve full redefinition of American’s democratic project if over time black Americans are able to move away from the charismatic, authoritarian leadership style and paternalistic organisations towards the goal of “group-centered leaders” and grassroots empowerment. In short, instead of leadership from above, democracy from below. The time for all voices to be heard is long overdue.”
Although, Black Leadership talks about Black American leaders the problems identified can be found within all movements, globally and locally. (I can even draw examples from the state of the Church but that’s for another article)
- Local Labour leadership in Newham came to an abrupt but necessary (and well overdue) earlier this year. The leadership model was based around one charismatic Scottish politician who for 23 years not only failed to share decision making power with diverse leaders but became even more powerful, stopping any public and political scrutiny of his leadership. The new local Labour leadership offers a group leadership type model with diverse cabinet members. I strongly believe that is one of the key reasons why they (we) won. I really hope that they are able to genuinely and consistently deliver on this. This will involve making tough and unpopular decisions such as opening doors to groups that supported the old leadership.
2. Momentum and Progress. Both groups would reluctantly like to admit they have something in common. Both movements’ leadership model becoming increasingly based on one person rather than a group, ideology or set of policies. This is problematic because like I mentioned earlier NO ONE is perfect. Therefore both movements must quickly learn to take on board criticisms and in a transparent way, rather than shutting down questions or legitimate unhappiness with announcements and direction.
3. British Feminism. British Feminist movements are full of heroisms. Firstly, we should not adopt this style of behaviour and mirror this form of leadership from male-lead movements. Feminism should never be about one person. It should be a collective and if that collective is not diverse or diversity is an afterthought it is not feminism and that movement will be heavily criticised and will eventually fail. Feminists can and must work together in the spirit of sisterhood. Within the fight to end patriarchy and redistribute power there is plenty of room for common ground. As the late Jo Cox MP said in her maiden speech, “we have more in common than that which seeks to divide us.”
There is a responsibility as supporters of the cause and feminist to not fall into the trap of creating heroes too.
We must also take some responsibility by putting a stop placing unattainable expectations for one leader, expectations to have all the answers and be 100% perfect all the time. It is mission impossible. If we don’t press the abort button on this mission we will eventually and continuously be disappointed and become resentful. This will derail progress made and could quite possibly set back decades of hard work and achievements.
To be a woman calling out patriarchy and misogynoir on social media seems to be a :new thing”. My advice is to use discernment to assess whether these women are genuinely for your cause or need a platform to profile themselves. While we must never condone bad behaviour, if the majority of your activism is about cancelling women and allies, which it is very easy to do on social media, for a reckless action that they are willing to learn from then we eventually run out of women leaders.
Because no one is perfect.
Recently I’ve been learning to not cancel EVERY body but instead call feminists in and give professional forgiveness. Obviously if rouge feminists refuse to listen and become a real threat to feminist movement and individuals then of course they should be cancelled. Remember, great activists sometimes say and do bad things, and at the same time career, climbing activists can sometimes say the right thing and at times be on the right side of history.
Group leadership is more effective and sustainable than one single leader. Good leadership is open to sharing power, challenge and criticism, if you you’re not then I’m afraid you’re part of the problem. Supporters and members of movements must unlearn certain behaviours in order to quit idolising and /or cancelling every single human being, if you don’t then you’re too part of the problem.
We are very excited to announce we will be holding our first two Glitch!UK events at the European Parliament, Strasbourg next week!
As part of European Youth Event 2018, on Friday 1st June Glitch!UK will host it’s first interactive panel discussion* inside the European Parliament on the impact of online abuse and hate speech on democracy in Europe, and it will be chaired by our Founder Seyi Akiwowo. Panellist include Former Italian Minister for Integration and Member of European Parliament Cécile Kashetu Kyenge and Yentyl Williams, Founder and Director of Young Professionals Network.
On Saturday 2nd June Glitch!UK deliver it’s first Combatting Online Abuse Activist Bootcamp to 100 young leaders from across Europe as part of the European Youth Forum’s Yo!Fest. This 90 mins workshop will be facilitated by our Founder Seyi Akiwowo and Catriona Graham, Policy and Campaigns Officer at European Women’s Lobby.
The panel may be live streamed.
Honoured to speak at Million Women Rise march last weekend. The energy in the air was indescribable. We march against male violence and patriarchy and we wear red in solidarity with survivors ❤
Below is a copy of my speech- we must challenge patriarchy and we must challenge those who do not exhibit good sisterhood
My name is Seyi Akiwowo, I founded Glitch!UK an advocacy, campaigning and training organisation that aims to end online abuse against women .
In February 2016 my life change, a video of a speech I made at the European Parliament went viral and I faced horrendous online abuse and harassment.
Online abuse is not about robust debate it’s about intentional harassment of women in order to force us to leave the online public space, to modify our behaviour and to submit patriarchy and to censor our voice.
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”.
This is a glitch in our online world
This glitch is an increasing threat to democracy as women are being silenced in political discussion and expressing political beliefs.
It’s a glitch because 41% of women survey in Amnesty International recent research said they feared for their physical safety.
It’s a glitch because 3/4 of women are censoring themselves
It’s a glitch because Women’s Aid research showed 48% of Domestic Violence survivors had been harassed or abused online by their ex-partner once they had left the relationship.
38% reported online stalking.
A further 45% were abused online during their relationship.
There is a significant problem with law enforcement across the world not taking reports of violence including online violence seriously.
Online abuse is a glitch in the online world that can and must be fixed
These are glitch that can be fixed if we moblise and put pressure on governments and social media companies to protect women online.
We must lobby for transparency and better self-regulation of all social media companies
We must lobby for legal reform and legal protection
This glitch can be fixed if we all make a commitment to be a good online citizen and an active by-stander online.
To end I’d like to share something my friend and activist, Zita Holbourne said to me on International Women’s Day.
We celebrate. We reflect. We challenge
We celebrate the amazing achievement all women have made, whether that’s being the “the first” or for creating women movements and campaigns.
We reflect. As much as we celebrate we must take a moment to think of all the women that cannot celebrate yet, who are being cut, trafficked, killed, bought, sold, exploited, undermined and ignored. There are women in the borough of the 2012 Olympics who with their family of small children are living on £34 a week!
We Challenge. We challenge the institutional patriarchal and racist structure
We challenge imposter syndrome
We challenge our friends and family who need to be better allies
We call people in as well as call people out
We challenge those that do not exhibit good sisterhood – this week a woman ran a negative campaign calling out the first woman of colour mayoral candidate for not having children, we must challenge this division.
We challenge ourselves.
Happy New year!
I hope you all had a lovely Christmas and a well-deserved break.
Four years ago, Forest Gate North branch took a chance on a young 21 year old Labour activist and not only selected me to be their Labour Councillor candidate, but embraced me as a member of a supportive and hardworking family. Then less than a year later Forest Gate North residents elected me as one of their ward Councillors . I have thoroughly enjoyed meeting and building relationships with residents across the ward. I know it sounds cheesy but honestly, it has been a real privilege to represent you and make positive changes to the ward and borough I grew up in.
Today I have written to the Procedures Secretary of the Newham Labour selection process to withdraw from the panel as I am no longer seeking re-selection.
It has been a humbling four years; I would especially like to thank Forest Gate North branch members and residents for supporting important campaigns and activities around youth safety, re-zoning of Maryland Station, helping set up a thriving community group in Maryland, regeneration of Thorogood Gardens and Muraland Public Arts project.
I also would like to say, it has been a pleasure working with all branch officers over the years. Thank you for helping to keep Forest Gate North an active and growing branch. I remember when our branch meetings were just about quorate and held in the smallest room, upstairs at Durning Hall. Door-knocking Sebert or Odessa Roads would take forever because there was a group of us. Now with a growing membership we’re in a much bigger meeting room, and out campaigning locally and in marginals as a big Labour squad #SquadGoals. From working with you all, I’ve learnt how important it is to champion the local Labour party, our message, and ensure that we not only have a presence locally but demonstrate good local leadership.
Thank you to Forest Gate North Safer Neighbourhood Police team, local housing associations, the Youth Zone, local businesses and Forest Gate Community Neighbourhood Officers. It’s been great (and fun) working in partnership with you.
Thank you to my colleagues on the council, especially members of Overview and Scrutiny over the years. We’ve produced really great recommendations, I’m particularly proud of our work on Domestic Violence.
Thank you to my lovely ward colleagues, past and present. Thank you, Rachel, Anam, and Ellie for all your encouragement, advice and grace.
Once again, warmest thanks to all Forest Gate North residents for the life-changing opportunity, and I wish you all the best.
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.
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..
- 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.
- Increasing knowledge and understanding of rights online.
Far 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.
- 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!