Beyond deterrence: Understanding the chilling effects of technology-facilitated gender-based violence

A 2018 report by the former United Nations Special Rapporteur on violence against women, Dubravka Šimonović, revealed that 1 in 10 women has experienced some form of online violence from the age of 15. Since the COVID-19 pandemic there has been a worldwide spike in cases of technology-facilitated gender-based violence (TFGBV). The indispensability of digital technologies for social, personal and professional interactions has put women at a heightened risk of online violence. In recent years there has been a growing awareness of the disproportionate impact technology-facilitated violence has on women. In addition to the invasion of privacy and danger to physical safety, studies have also documented the psychological, emotional and economic harm of TFGBV. 

This piece highlights overlooked aspects of one frequently cited harm of TFGBV – the silencing of women – often also referred to as the "chilling effect" on speech. Borrowing from recent scholarship by a Toronto-based social scientist and legal academic, Jon Penney, on the "productive" outcomes of the chilling effect, this piece argues for an expanded understanding of the impact that TFGBV has on shaping how women express themselves online. 

In response to the violence and abuse they face online, women censor themselves, stepping back from conversations online, and sometimes exiting online spaces entirely. However, the chilling effect of online violence is not just about silencing oneself due to the fear of harm. Often, women continue to speak and exist online but alter their speech and behaviour to comply with perceived social norms. 

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Photo by Mariana Montrazi on Pexels.


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