July 2018

Fair Play Online

Social media has become a powerful tool for people to engage, connect, communicate, learn and grow. As Australia’s eSafety Commissioner, I am committed to empowering all Australians to have safe and positive experiences online.

To help achieve this aim for Australian women, the eSafety Office recently launched a pilot program: Women Influencing Tech Spaces (WITS).

WITS is an initiative to protect and promote women’s voices online. It draws upon the stories, skills and strategies of women who have experienced and successfully worked to combat cyber abuse.

Regrettably, women are more likely to be targets of personal, sexual and gender based cyber abuse than their male counterparts.

When it comes to victim reports into the eSafety Office, women are also over-represented. Two thirds of our cyber abuse and image-based abuse complaints involve women. It troubles me greatly that social media, which should be a tool for women to raise their voices, is often the platform on which their voices are silenced in response to persistent abuse.

Women with public personas are especially targeted with cyber abuse. This includes women in politics, journalism and, as we have seen lately, female commentators and athletes.

I have been saddened by the abuse SBS host Lucy Zelic has received for simply for doing her job, and doing it exceptionally well!

However, I have also been heartened by the way women such as Australian Paralympian Madison de Rozario have spoken out about their abuse, and have refused to be silenced.

AFLW footballer Darcy Vescio was also one of the panellists at our WITS launch. She spoke movingly about how she has used social media to promote her voice and help break down the barriers that women face in sport and society more broadly.

Ironically, as female athletes and commentators break new ground in broadcasting and sport, social media is becoming as much of a contact sport as the field or court!

Cyber abuse targeted at women is a complex issue. But it is important to remember it is not a women’s issue: it is a societal issue. Social media surfaces the full reality of the human condition, including remnants of intolerance, misogyny and racism.

Like sport, I believe the internet can be an equaliser of voices and an enabler of diversity and inclusion.

I therefore have a clear objective with WITS: I want to give women the psychological armour to interact online with impact and confidence.

I want to harness the strength and power of all women’s voices: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women, women from culturally and linguistically diverse communities, women who identify as LGBTQI and women with disabilities.

My office has developed new online resources for WITS. Our website includes videos of influential women sharing their stories of how they cope with cyber abuse and information for taking action.

Annabel Crabb - #womenwithWITS - web from eSafety Office on Vimeo.

It also includes a new suite of resilience tips and techniques aimed at enhancing the mental wellbeing of women online. My office will also be co-hosting quarterly WITS workshops, which will provide women practical guidance and support on how to interact online safely.

We’ll also be using social media to amplify the WITS message. Through the hashtag #womenwithWITS, we want women to share their stories, skills and strategies for combatting cyber abuse.

By joining the WITS conversation, women will not only empower themselves: they can help empower other women to stand up for themselves and other women experiencing strife online.

Sporting organisations, players and fans can play a critical role in addressing cyber abuse targeted at women. By demonstrating respect, empathy and positivity online, and having a zero tolerance approach to abuse, everyone in the world of sport can contribute to the cultural change we need to address the cyber abuse women receive.

Together, we can work in tandem to create a level playing field for women – online and offline.

I believe that in creating a more respectful and tolerant online world for women, through initiatives like WITS, we will ultimately create a better online world for everyone.

For further information on WITS, please see the Women Influencing Tech Spaces website and the #womenwithWITS on social media.


Julie Inman GrantJulie Inman Grant

eSafety Commissioner