Greater access to communication technologies is viewed as a marker of progress. The internet — often touted as a tool owned by ‘nobody’ and therefore for ‘everybody’ — allows for the sharing of knowledge and information. But there’s a dark side to this freedom, and a host of unprecedented challenges to grapple with: financial fraud and scamming, identity theft and impersonation, stalking, doxxing, bullying and gender-based harassment that quickly takes on a sexual nature, etc. Cloaked in anonymity, malicious users indulge in antisocial behaviour and hate speech that are less likely to be accepted in the ‘real world’. For women in particular, the internet experience can be highly stressful and, in some cases, even dangerous. And, like other marginalised groups, this is not even accounting for the myriad barriers they encounter prior to accessing online spaces. Harassment — whether in the physical or virtual realm — is a tactic of exerting dominance and control, which pushes women and marginalised groups out of spaces they have every right to occupy. At the very least, policymakers should take necessary steps to ensure that those who navigate this space can do so in safety.
Published in Dawn, January 11th, 2019