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Amnesty International Spotlights Severity of Online Harassment

Amnesty International (AI) is a human rights organization that is run by everyday people who fight for those who cannot fight for themselves. The organization was inspired by British lawyer Peter Beneson who wrote an article in The Observer in 1961 launching a campaign for two Portuguese students that had been jailed for raising a toast to freedom.

The article received an amazing response and was reprinted around the world. According to AI, “His call to action sparked the idea that people everywhere can unite in solidarity for justice and freedom. This inspiring moment didn’t just give birth to an extraordinary movement, it was the start of extraordinary social change.”

Since the founding of Amnesty International, the organization has grown to not only help seek the release of political prisoners but to also protect and empower people by protecting their human rights.  

Recently, Amnesty International released some alarming research that revealed the impact harassment and abuse on social media can have on women. Many women reported that when they experience these harmful online threats, they feel more stress, anxiety, and even have panic attacks.

According to the IPSOS MORI poll, which examined women between the ages of 18 and 55 in Denmark, Italy, New Zealand, Poland, Spain, Sweden, the United Kingdom, and the United States, “Nearly 25 percent of women surveyed said they had experienced online abuse or harassment at least once. Alarmingly, 41 percent of women who had experience online abuse or harassment said that on at least one occasion these online experiences made them feel that their physical safety was threatened.”

Azmina Dhirodia, an Amnesty International Researcher on Technology and Human Rights, shared, “The internet can be a frightening and toxic place for women. It’s no secret that misogyny and abuse are thriving on social media platforms, but this poll shows just how damaging the consequences of online abuse are for the women who are targeted.”

Dhrodia added, “This is not something that goes away when you log off. Imagine getting death threats or rape threats when you open an app, or living in fear of sexual and private photos being shared online without your consent. The particular danger of online abuse is how fast it can proliferate – one abusive tweet can become a barrage of targeted hate in a matter of minutes. Social media companies need to truly start taking this problem seriously.”

Online harassment takes everything to a new level, especially since we are rarely disconnected from social media or the Internet. The harassment is always in your face and almost impossible to ignore or avoid.

Laura Bates, founder of the Everyday Sexism Project, told Amnesty International that she received almost 200 abusive messages a day. These messages were detailed and usually went into graphic explanations of how someone would rape or abuse her.

Bates shared, “The psychological impact of reading through someone’s really graphic thoughts about raping and murdering you is not necessarily acknowledged. You could be sitting at home in your living room, outside of working hours, and suddenly someone is able to send you an incredibly graphic rape threat right into the palm of your hand.”

While social media might be great in allowing people the freedom to express themselves or gain better access to knowledge, it also gives people a sense of entitlement when it comes to telling people exactly what they think of another person. There is a sort of disconnect between what someone is posting and the person on the other end of the screen.

Dhrodia explains this phenomena even better by saying, “Social media has helped enhance freedom of expression, including access to information in many ways. But as offline discrimination and violence against women have migrated into the digital world, many women are stepping back from public conversations, or self-censoring out of fear for their privacy or safety.”

One United States blogger, Pamela Merritt, shared her story about online harassment with Amnesty International, saying, “I had one incident when I got an email from the FBI; they needed to talk to me about some activity related to my blog. There was a white supremacist who was actively trying to find out where I live. That took it to another level…I had to be very deliberate about my posting for a year after that. [The abuse] definitely makes me pause before I weigh in on anything. It makes me fear for my family. I have had to have an intense conversation with my family about safety and me having a public profile and being out in the community.”

Social media can be a wonderful tool, but when it is used to hurt others, it loses its appeal. Dhrodia told Amnesty International that this fight needs to be taken to a whole other level, meaning that social media companies need to do a better job of monitoring their platforms.

Dhordia says, “Social media companies have a responsibility to respect human rights, including the right to freedom of expression. [This includes ensuring] that women using their platforms are able to do so freely and without fear.”

Featured Image by Rawpixel Ltd on Flickr

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