Netizen Report: #TakeBacktheTech Campaign Stands Up to Online Misogyny (and Misinformation)

Global Voices Advocacy's Netizen Report offers an international snapshot of challenges, victories, and emerging trends in Internet rights around the world.

The Association for Progressive Communications, a pioneer organization in the technology and human rights community, is facing ongoing harassment directed at “Take Back the Tech,” a campaign intended to increase conversations and awareness about gender-based harassment online.

Prominent themes in the attack included suggestions that the campaign is nothing more than a “bitching session” about gender disparity in technology industries; cartoons depicting leaders of the campaign and other prominent online feminists such as Anita Sarkeesian accepting money from powerful companies and the UN; and multiple comparisons between the campaign and Germany under Hitler.

The attack evidently was triggered by a report on “cyberviolence” against women released in late September by the United Nations. The report contained numerous inaccurate citations and omissions, supported dubiously-sourced claims about links between violence and video games, and proposed censoring sex-related content online, such as pornography. The report immediately garnered criticism from gender and online rights advocates, arguing that it not only undermined the legitimacy of their work but also seemed to trigger yet another wave of misogynistic harassment against them. Prominent advocates like Sarkeesian and APC have worked actively with the UN on this issue, but had no role in writing the report.

"px plz" by xkcd, licensed for reuse.

“px plz” by xkcd. CC BY-NC 2.5

The trolls involved in this attack should not be confused or conflated with more legitimate critiques about the potential censorship implications of seeking to diminish misogynistic speech online. Indeed, Take Back the Tech's leaders have long debated the challenges that the issue poses for free speech. But they agree that when online harassment escalates to threats of real-life harm — examples range from Afghanistan to Brazil to the US — it should be treated as a threat, not a simple exercise of free speech.

Facebook users arrested over political critiques, Mickey Mouse references

Two Lebanese Facebook users were arrested and detained on charges of sectarianism, libel and defamation for posts they wrote on the social media site. Michel Douaihy spent nine days in jail for criticizing the punishment given to the cleric Ahmad Al-Assir. Mohammad Nazzal, a journalist for Al-Akhbar newspaper, was convicted on similar charges, but was sentenced to six months in prison.

A few days later, an Egyptian Facebook user was reportedly sentenced to three years in prison by a military court for drawing Mickey Mouse ears on president Abdel Fattah El-Sisi and posting it on the popular networking site. Amr Nohan allegedly was charged with the all too common “attempt to overthrow the regime.”

Myanmar activist on trial for mocking military wardrobe

Myanmar activist Chaw Sandi Tun is facing court proceedings for posting a digital photo collage that juxtaposed female political opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi with high level military service personnel, all male, donning newly redesigned uniforms. By comparing the new military garb to Aung San Suu Kyi's sarong-like dress (both were a similar shade of green) the post insinuated that military officers were dressing like women, which is considered an insult in Myanmar society. Military officials are seeking to prosecute Chaw under a vague provision of the country's Electronic Transactions Law, which carries penalties of up to five years in prison for altering digital information in order to defame “any organization or any person.”

Peruvian news site briefly loses Facebook account over Fujimori coverage

The Facebook account of Peruvian news site La Republica was suspended on October 11 after receiving a flood of abuse complaints, most of which concerned an article about legal investigations into the financial and political activities of family members of legislator and presidential candidate Keiko Fujimori, the daughter of former president and convicted human rights violator Alberto Fujimori. Although the page has since been reactivated, it left the staff of La Republica rattled. “Despite these acts of censorship , we are and will be strong advocates of freedom of expression and press freedom,” they wrote.

Apple News takes orders from Chinese government

Apple blocked access to Apple News for all users connected to Chinese telecom networks. Overseas users from countries that have access to Apple News will receive an error message when traveling to China, saying the app is not supported within the country. According to the New York Times, the move is likely an attempt by Apple to circumvent compliance with Chinese censorship rules, which would require the company to remove articles deemed sensitive by the government from the Apple News feed.

Australia’s new data retention law debuts despite criticism from activists, lawmakers

On October 13, a new data retention law came into effect in Australia that requires telecoms and Internet service providers to store extensive user data records for up to two years. The law requires blanket retention of metadata from phone calls, SMS messages, emails, and Web browsing histories, but as privacy activists and even some opposition legislators have pointed out, the law is full of holes and should be relatively easy to circumnavigate for most users. Given Australia’s intelligence alliance with the United States, however, Australian netizens may soon opt to go the extra mile to protect their personal data from prying government eyes.

Trade treaty leak suggests a dim future for open knowledge

The final leaked text of the Intellectual Property Rights chapter of the recently concluded Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations suggest that some of the most expansive copyright language made it into the final version of the treaty. According to analysis by the EFF’s Jeremy Malcolm, there are a number of onerous provisions in the treaty: while obligations to the rights of the public are non-binding, almost anything that benefits rightsholders is binding in the treaty. The language also provides for the extension of the copyright term to life plus 70 years and includes a prohibition on the circumvention of digital rights management (DRM) technologies, even when no copyright infringement is committed.

New Research

Juan Arellano, Ellery Roberts Biddle, Lisa Ferguson, Sam Kellogg, Weiping Li, Leila Nachawati and Sarah Myers West contributed to this report.

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