NGO Forum CSW61: Achieving a Feminist Internet

Date: March 12, 2017
Start Time: 1:15 pm
End Time: 2:30 pm
Location: United Nations
Where: New York, NY

The internet promises economic empowerment for all marginalized groups in society. However, many obstacles stand in the way to deliver on this promise, and this is especially true for women who inhabit digital spaces. Social media platforms like Facebook are skillfully deployed by feminist activists around the world, such as the Million Woman March on Washington D.C. in January of this year, and also enable more work flexibility and remote-work opportunities. An inclusive, save digital space is key to the development of women’s economic empowerment through both activist opportunities as well as the growing trend of work moving online.

Additionally, we encounter internet cesspools where discriminatory ideology finds ways not only artificially amplify its voice, but also to directly attack individuals by revealing stolen personal information (doxxing) and constant harassment on social media platforms. Police departments are often ill equipped to deal with online harassment, and the current model of recourse for remedy is through reporting inappropriate content to the company running the website, if such a mechanism is in place at all.

Attempts at excluding women from public life is nothing new, and the methodology historically employed is strikingly similar to those of the cesspool trolls. How societies and communities have dealt with this issue so far vary greatly. Some acts are considered so vile–such as the posting of revenge porn–that they have resulted in fairly rapid legislative change, as in the U.S. State of California, while other acts are largely ignored even if they include death threats. But generally, legislative bodies are pushing internet policy enforcement to companies, who are not bound by human rights treaties such as CEDAW in the same way states are. While this trend might be a logistical necessity, can the end result achieve an equal and safe internet for all? What guidance can a feminist analysis of the tech sector and state behavior offer those that do want to create safe and intersectional digital spaces? How can a feminist ideology offer a transformative broach to the internet, especially given the current trend of pushing policy enforcement obligations away from the state and on to private companies?