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.
Julie Inman Grant