Another Social Media Is Possible: A Feminist One
By Flavia Fascendini
At the end of 2014 I wrote a blog post for GenderIT.org called “Social media: Why can’t I just leave? Why is it hard to stay?,” which was basically an open declaration of my love of the internet and of social media. Despite my adoration, however, I recognized that these realms were and remain seriously limited in their ability to bring about needed social change. “Facebook is not a space for much disagreement,” I wrote. “(…) I think the criteria ruling many groups on social media somehow follows the motto ‘show you are happy or go away’.”
I’ve wondered several things since I wrote that three years ago: Are there ways to subvert and break down this systemic docility—particularly where women’s issues are concerned? Do online forums preclude airing of conflicting views or nuance? Is social media a space where we can discuss issues such as gender-based violence? If not, is that because the internet was designed and is still largely controlled by men? Could women disrupt and/or “dislike” the way online realms are currently designed or reconstruct them in a way that respects them? What would a “feminist internet” look like?
Given certain empowering movements—uncontainable shifts that have taken place since 2014—I now believe a feminist internet is possible.
What’s happened? In 2014 the Association for Progressive Communications (APC) called more than fifty activists from Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America, and North America, to come together and craft “Feminist Principles of the Internet.” This was such a mind-blowing, game-changing and exciting development, and it marked a before and after in the way we as feminists thought of the internet as a space where women and queer persons should have a say. Where we all should be able to fully enjoy our rights, engage in pleasure and play, and dismantle patriarchy.
Then in 2015, APC, having worked closely with partners in seven countries (Bosnia and Herzegovina, Colombia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya, Mexico, Pakistan and Philippines) issued the report “From impunity to justice: Exploring corporate and legal remedies for technology-related violence against women.” This researched identified where and how VAW is taking place as well as those environmental conditions that cause such abuse.
Most violations took place on Facebook (26%) and via mobile phones (19%). 33% of women reported emotional harm, 19% had their reputations harmed, and 13% experienced invasion of privacy. The APC also found that social media (predominantly Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube) lacked transparency on reporting and on redress processes and that women who experienced online violence were more likely to report the abuse to the police than to Facebook.
Chiefly responsible for VAW is a pervasive culture of impunity that results from viewing women as second-class citizens; victim blaming and disregard for victims’ privacy; and authorities’ lack of training and corrupt legal systems. Especially in lesser-developed countries and those experiencing post-war conflict, lack of political will to address the problem is also a big factor. In those societies many women are powerless to fight VAW based simply on their class, caste, ethnicity, and/or race. And in highly developed nations religious and/or neo-conservative parties continue publicizing messages that are subtly if not overtly anti-feminist.
This culture of impunity was the one that women called out in 2015 with the hashtag #NiUnaMenos (“not one [woman] less”), which started in Argentina and was triggered by the October 8th fatal gang rape of Lucia Pérez, a sixteen-year-old girl in Mar del Plata. These protests quickly spread to Mexico, El Salvador, Bolivia, Chile, Paraguay, Perú, and Uruguay mainly via Twitter. On June 3, 2016, there was another mobilization after which, #NiUnaMenos was the top-ranking topic on Twitter in Argentina for several hours: 1.3 million users participated in the debate, writing a total of 20,799 posts (an average of 400 posts per minute). 25% of users actively engaged in the conversations, of which 47% sent messages supporting the protests, 49% shared messages about gender equality, and 4% criticized mysogynistic behavior. Today #NiUnaMenos has 53,130 followers.
Other online women’s rights groups have also stepped up their activity recently. The global group Take Back the Tech has been organizing online against VAW since 2006 and has (what have they done recently?). Founded the same year, the #MeToo social media campaign in (month and year) put in evidence the pervasive extension of sexual assault and harassment of women in spite of their different realities, contexts and specificities.
These are just a few of the concrete ways in which people all over the globe have been using the internet to lodge their “dislike” of violence against women—of repudiating the abuse that, sadly but unsurprisingly, has found an online shelter as it did offline. Now, it is our turn to shuffle the cards and deal again. Then, and only then, can I be sure that we— women and girls—will find more things to genuinely “like” on social media.
Related articles: #NIUnaMenos