16 Ways You Can Make Online Spaces Safer For Women

For the 11th day of the 16 Days of Activism, we are pleased to share a special blog list of 16 actions that anyone can take to become upstanders taking make online spaces safer for women from our partner,Breakthrough and their Bell Bajao campaign (now Breakthrough India).

Note: For additional tips and ideas on how to take action to stop online violence, you can read our 2013 article on 16 ways men can help stop cyberVAW.

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SearchQuick – what’s the first thing you think of when you see the phrase ‘safe public spaces’? For most of us, we see well-lit streets, marketplaces bustling with people of all genders, public transport where women don’t fear to tread. But how many of us stop to consider the less ‘physical’ world?

The online space is as legitimate a public space as any, and like the streets, marketplaces and buses around us, as prone to incidences of harassment and violence against women. A woman on the internet is may be subject to death threats, rape threats, or worse, and none of us are strangers to stories of harassment ‘forcing’ women being off social networks or gaming communities.

Fortunately, the solution rests with us – the citizens of the internet. We can act to create online spaces that are safer for everyone – here are 16 ways how:

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Action To Stop Online VAW #1: Believe survivors when they say they have experienced violence. It takes a great amount of courage to come forward and share a traumatic experience publicly. It is difficult enough for survivors to share their stories, the last thing they need is to have their experiences doubted.

Action To Stop Online VAW #2: Know the law and don’t be afraid to use it. Several countries regard cyber crimes as criminal offenses. If you spot someone engaging in cyber threats , do not hesitate to bring them to justice, legally.

Help ButtonAction To Stop Online VAW #3. Intervene when you spot someone being vilified or bullied online. All you have to do is interrupt the conversation and distract the bully.

Action To Stop Online VAW #4: Watch your language when interacting online. A lot of the words and phrases we use frequently are riddled with sexism and idealise masculinity. For instance “don’t be such a girl” makes femininity out to be a negative thing, while “be a man” glorifies masculinity. The phrases we use have the power to tip or equalise the gender balance.

Action To Stop Online VAW #5. Use “block” and “report” liberally – one of the easiest things to do is report abusive or violent online behaviour. Social networks and major website usually have a very low-tolerance policy when it comes to offensive behaviour online and respond rapidly to reports.

Action To Stop Online VAW #6. Concentrate on the argument when in an online debate. The internet is a hotbed for discussion, debate and differences in opinion. When arguments get messy, don’t debase yourself by name-calling the other person. Focus on the point and hand and use reason and logic to make your point, rather than belittling personal attributes.

Action To Stop Online VAW #7. Don’t blame the victim. Whether online, or offline – NOBODY deserves abuse or violence. Don’t fall into the “they asked for it” or “they had it coming” arguments – these just reinforce patriarchal mindsets.

Action To Stop Online VAW #8: Don’t feed the trolls. Sometimes the best action is no action. Trolls make it their mission to disrupt or upset others around them. You can identify them by their resistance to listening to or accepting a point of view that differs from their own. Once you’ve spotted a troll, refrain from interacting with them entirely.

Action To Stop Online VAW #9: Respect the discomfort of others. We may not always know why another person feels uncomfortable during a conversation, but something that is trivial to us may be of great significance, or a trigger for them. Respect their situation if they tell you they are feeling uncomfortable and move on to another topic.

Action To Stop Online VAW #10. Call out abusive or offensive behaviour. Take intervention a step further, and instead of just interrupting the aggressor, call them out on their behaviour. A phrase like ‘that’s a sexist thing to say’ or ‘this is discriminatory’ or even ‘there’s no need to be aggressive’ can be all it takes to bring bad behaviour to notice.

Action To Stop Online VAW #11: Check your privilege. If English is your first language and you’re from a middle class family, you’re already at an advantage online. We often aren’t even aware of our own privilege before falling into shouting matches with others on the internet.

Girl in LaptopAction To Stop Online VAW #12: Encourage more women to come online. The greater the number of women in public spaces, the safer those public spaces are. Work towards gender-equality online by helping create it.

Action To Stop Online VAW #13: Show sensitivity towards other cultures. In a space where people from different countries and cultures intermingle. Be open to listening to the voices of those who have gone through different experiences and learn from their stories. Not everyone goes through the same life experiences.

Action To Stop Online VAW #14:. Stop body-shaming. Calling people names because you perceive them as too fat, too thin, wearing inappropriate clothing or makeup that isn’t professionally applied is just one of the ways the anonymity the internet provides enables such malicious behaviour. Don’t engage in it, and don’t tolerate it from others

Action To Stop Online VAW #15. Don’t marginalise other communities. Not just gender, but making comments that marginalise or demean individuals based on class, sex, race, caste, ability, sexual preference, age or weight all contribute to creating unwelcoming public spaces.

Action To Stop Online VAW #16. Make it visible. Finally, don’t hesitate to bring abusive or offensive behaviour to the public eye. Take screenshots, and spread the word. Make violence against women and girls in every space unacceptable.

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