“Hai Hw u.”
“U r lukin btfl”
“Hi hw mch is ur rate for one night stand.”
“Hi u r pretty girl why you don’t reply me.”
“nice dp sexy.”
If you’re a woman or a girl with a profile on social media, this is probably routine. The Filtered Folder in Facebook is a treasure trove of this trashy, inappropriate behavior – most of which often just goes unaddressed because ignoring is the largely easiest strategy to adopt. Which is understandable, given that reporting is a cumbersome process, and doesn’t always end in enough action being taken. The loopholes in the law, the insensitivity of the security sector and the sheer stigma associated with a woman’s right to report, come together to online harassment easily the most easy-to-perpetrate. To a harasser sitting behind a computer or a cell phone screen, this isn’t much – vitriol bleeds as they pound the keyboard, taking their toxic masculinity to a whole new level.
And I’m fed up of it: enough to turn all the lamentation into a solution, or an attempt at a solution. So, at The Red Elephant Foundation, my team and I created the Troll Register, using the already-familiar tool of crowd mapping – but this time, going beyond merely mapping, and calling for crowdsourced action on the mapped information.
Troll Register is a Ushahidi Crowdmap, adapted from ideas that have been followed by Safecity and HarassMap. The platform crowd-sources personal stories and accounts of cyber harassment, across a range of online media platforms – both social media and peer-to-peer digital media spaces. These stories can be reported on the platform by a person facing harassment directly. Reports on troll register are to be filled in anonymously or with full disclosure of the reporter’s identity at their own discretion, with comprehensive details of the harassing account / handle / link / avatar / number, with or without the geolocation of the person being harassed and, with screenshots wherever relevant, to enable identification of the harassing profile
The data that is received is then verified and then added onto the map. Users who visit the map can then report these accounts to the forum that it took place on. The mapping team receiving this data will also attempt to trace and record IP numbers of the said accounts / locations of said accounts. They will then aggregate and report occurrences to the forum, while also doing its best to follow up on each case to the best extent possible.
The UNWomen (2015) has suggested that 73% women have been abused online. Women are 27 times more likely to be abused online than men, and online harassers are more likely to be men (61%). A whopping 9 Million women have experienced a form of serious cyber VAWG since the age of 15. Today, as many as 1 in 5 women feel the internet is inappropriate for them, and women aged 18-24 are at great risk of Cyber VAWG.
Cyber VAWG can be incredibly dangerous and result in adverse psychological consequences, and even lead to crimes like rape and murder. The culture of silence creates lasting impacts on young people, who then grow up with a lot of baggage. The silence in the system allows for Cyber VAWG to continue. TrollRegister is an initiative to create safe spaces online and to restore equality in the tech space.
Anyone facing Cyber Harassment or any form of conduct that amounts to Cyber VAWG can report their stories of harassment. Anyone who wants to be a supporter and a good online by-stander can rise and intervene – and use the platform to read stories and to report the offensive profiles. We’re in a place in the world where technology has begun to consume our lives in more ways than we can articulate. If fighting fire by fire is the only way, then I think we’re at the cusp of something meaningful: a platform built on solidarity and privacy, to get rid of a common canker that’s troubling all of us regardless of where we are.
Views are the author’s own
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