Feminist reflection on internet policies

Changing the way you see ICT

It's violent, it's misogynist. Something needs to be done, but what?

Sonia Randhawa
Sonia Randhawa on 16 July, 2012 - 11:20
0 comments | 8231 reads
Sonia Randhawa is a former GenderIT.org editor currently doing a PhD on women journalists in Malaysia in the 1990s. She lives in Melbourne, Australia, but still calls Malaysia home.
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For those of you that don't know the appalling vitriol that Anita Sarkeesian has been subject to, you can read a summary of it here. It's worrying that there are people out there who are capable of perpetrating this campaign of hatred. But what's more worrying is that we don't seem to know what to do about it.

Here are my thoughts - aimed primarily at getting some discussion going that goes beyond simple dichotomies. In particular the dichotomy of 'free speech' and 'censorshipi' which often seems to frame these debates. Nobody seriously suggests that when you are asked to be quiet in a library, it is a violation of free speech. There are definite analogies online - sometimes a little quiet is required for a free, fair and frank exchange of information, views and ideas. This is the only way that freedom of expressioni actually means anything - otherwise the person with the loudest voice is the only person whose opinion is ever heard.

Thus, I think that there should have been legal remedy for any images and games that violate Sarkeesian's bodily integrity - whether it's pictures of her being raped, the 'beat up Anita' game, whatever. That is, she should be able to go to court and get an order compelling the relevant ISP to take down the images and related material.

But in a borderless world, this is tricky. And for this, there needs to be international protocols, so that if a court in, say, Malaysia rules that material posted on an ISP based in Finland has perpetrated violence against a Malaysian citizen, they can request the Finnish courts to issue an order to have the material removed. Or some similar system. By working in a reciprocal manner, the highest standards of freedom of expression can be maintained (the Finnish court might decide that the image in question is a satirical post about a person in power, and therefore exempt from laws about violation of bodily integrity, for instance). Similar action could be taken to remove information about a person's physical address, telephone numbers and other personal information. In some instances, courts should be able to prosecute individuals for their violent acts - I'd like to see the people behind that video game spend some time thinking about the implications of their actions!

What's key here is that what is being punished is not freedom of expression, or even hate speech, but violence and threats.

This doesn't deal with the barrage of hate mail that was sent - but I don't think anything can really be done about that. Or about images that were sent personally to Sarkeesian. The only way around that is to do what has always been done - filter and monitor. It is NOT fair that the onus is on the victim to safeguard her or himself. But I don't know what else can be done.

 

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