The digital world, being a creation of humans, is one big contradiction. It has provided us with opportunities to improve the quality of our lives. But on the other hand, the complex, digital tactics to make someone’s life a hell on earth are now on another level too.
Louna Hakkarainen, Coordinator from Women’s Line, has been running the S@fety Net project and research on digital abuse in relationships for two years now. The outcome, along with a wide information base, is an extensive publication that can be downloaded from here (in Finnish).
According to the study, the digital tactics of abuse can take the form of controlling, spying, shaming and/or terrorizing. For example, the tracking tools available to anybody can record everything from the search words you use on Google to the conversations you have on social media. Like Louna Hakkarainen put it, digitalization has increased women’s responsibility of protecting themselves from violence although we all have the same right to technology.
Online harassment can be an effective tool to exclude women. 45 percent of 18-30-year old women decided not to publish their comments or texts online after seeing the harassment other people have experienced (Tästä saa puhua, S&S, 2018 & Pew Research Center, 2017). That’s a shockingly high number of stories and views our society will miss.
Albert Virtanen, Business Development Manager from Aller Media Oy, stated anonymity might come to the rescue when people seek peer-support. Aller’s Suomi 24 platform’s discussions are completely anonymous. Still, moderators with the help of AI remove 20,000 messages that contain abusive words or phrases every month. So the anonymity doesn’t protect us from bigots nor criminals but might enable diverse conversation.
SomeBuddy has created an interesting weapon for the fight against the digital invasion. The CEO and co-founder of the company, Suvi Uski, and her colleagues have harnessed AI to tackle legal confusion in situations like receiving unsolicited pictures of private body parts or being photographed secretly. You can report violations like these to SomeBuddy and the service provides you a tailored survival kit.
It seems we do have tools to protect ourselves online. However, as in the offline or “traditional” gender-based violence, so in the online, the change for better starts from our attitudes. The culture of abusive behavior needs to change.
When new platforms, outlets, and applications are designed, our job is to initiate and build them for the new culture, not for the invasion. The contradiction in life makes things usually interesting but in the digital environments, we don’t want to risk inclusivity, well-being or in the worst case, lives.