By Bruno Zilli and Horacio Sivori Publisher: GenderIT.orgPublished on
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At three different times over the past four years, the EROTICS project: An Exploratory Research on Sexuality and the Internet, by the APC Women’s Rights Programme, sent out a questionnaire to its worldwide network of gender and sexuality activists, advocates, professionals and scholars, to learn about the role of information and communication technologies in their work. The survey was particularly designed to reflect about their experiences and responses to online violence and censorship. In this introductory note, we comment on the meaning of the survey as a tool to explore the potential, challenges and possibilities of the internet for the exercise of gender and sexuality rights.
The EROTICS project looks at the impact of regulatory frameworks and control mechanisms on the actual lived practices, experiences and concerns of internet users in the exercise of their sexual rights. At its seminal stage, five case studies showed that while increasing online activity exposes users to certain risks and threats, individuals and collectives are successful in developing means of self-protection, regulation, and empowerment. However, national and international Government, as well as business and user-based control initiatives aimed at curbing those risks––vaguely justified by the imperative of protecting vulnerable subjects –, end up generating restrictions to online activity and contents that could otherwise improve the thriving online experience and sexual expression of internet users – in particular, youths, women, and sexual minorities.
To assess the scope of this impact on sexual rights advocacy the EROTICS team designed and applied a global survey with two primary objectives. One was to map how sexual rights activists (on a variety of issues and from different countries) use the internet to advance their work. The other objective was to document and provide insights on the types of risks, harassment, content regulation, or censorship they deal with, and how they respond to them. That is, what gender and sexuality-related online contents, practices, and modes of interaction may be subjected to censorship, limitations, threats, or violence.
The survey reached out to respondents broadly self-identified as “working on” LGBTQI, women’s and sexual rights, which potentially included activists, scholars, experts and supporters; in other words, individuals who are particularly sensitive to issues around sexual rights and the internet. They were invited to respond to a questionnaire addressing issues of access, use of internet resources for advocacy, online safety, and censorship. The first global survey was launched in 2013, and a slightly revised version of the questionnaire was applied as a follow-up exercise in 2014. In 2017, a reviewed version of the questionnaire was again sent out, and an important innovation was introduced: in-depth interviews were conducted with individuals who volunteered to expand their responses (2017 survey results).