A+ for profits, F for women's rights: Take Back the Tech! campaign invites users to rate Facebook, Twitter and YouTube

Pergamino, Argentina, 11 septembre 2014


What Are You Doing About Violence Against Women? We invite users to join our campaign to demand answers and action.

We need transparency and safety online. That’s why we are targeting the big three: Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. We want them to take a clear stand on violence against women (VAW) in their terms of service and to engage with civil society in order to create safer platforms.

Through mapping activities and research, many cases from all over the world have been collected that show a continuum between offline and online violence against women. Yet the companies behind the big three social media platform have failed to address VAW in an informed, consistent and serious way.

Research developed by the APC Women’s Rights Programme on internet intermediaries mapped the corporate policies of Facebook, Twitter and YouTube to analyse each platform’s mechanism for identifying, reporting and rectifying incidents of harassment or VAW. In addition to providing a detailed summary of the user policies relevant to this issue, the study also compares the impact and effectiveness of those policies against the framework of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.

The research findings are an excellent critical tool for advocates and activists to use when engaging with internet intermediaries on better avenues for redressing technology-related violence.

Internet intermediaries have taken some positive steps in recent years to improve their approach and reaction to issues of VAW online. These include engagement with stakeholder groups, simplified and easily accessible reporting mechanisms, and some proactive steps to eradicate VAW. But research findings also stress that while approaches to VAW differ between Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, there are a number of overarching themes and trends, such as:

1. Reluctance to engage directly with technology-related violence against women, until it becomes a public relations issue

In the case of both Twitter and Facebook, no concrete or genuine steps were taken to promote women’s rights and specifically address violence against women until public scandals and resulting high-profile campaigns emerged in respect of the intermediary. YouTube has yet to take any public stance engaging with these issues directly. These failings suggest a lack of appreciation of the seriousness of violence against women online, and a lack of recognition of the responsibility of the intermediary to take measures to mitigate the frequency and seriousness of instances of violence and to provide redress.

2. Lack of transparency around reporting and redress processes

The primary challenge encountered by the researchers when conducting this study was the lack of available information about the reporting and redress processes available to victims/survivors of technology-related violence. Facebook provides the most information online about its reporting processes, but there remain serious gaps in information about the way complaints are dealt with and the tests/thresholds applied. Twitter provides very little information about reporting processes but significant information about the circumstances under which it will cooperate with law enforcement; this should be contrasted with YouTube, which provides no information about law enforcement cooperation. However, YouTube was the most willing to publicly engage with the research, being the only company out of the three to agree to an interview with the researchers.

3. Failure to engage with the perspectives of non-North American/European women

Across the three companies, there is a general concern that processes relating to reporting of violence against women do not necessarily take into account the experiences of non-North American/European women. Broad definitions of “hate speech”, “offensive behaviour”, “vulnerable individual” and “harassment” are employed in user policies without any attempt to further elucidate their meaning in certain social or cultural contexts.

4. No public commitment to human rights standards

None of the companies makes a public commitment to human rights standards or to the promotion of rights, other than the encouragement of free speech. None of the available policies explicitly address gender-related violence or harassment nor take a strong stance on respect for diversity or for women’s rights.

At a workshop on platform responsibility for content management at the recently finished Internet Governance Forum in Turkey, Jan Moolman, APC’s “End violence: Women’s rights and safety online” project coordinator, stated, “It’s unlikely companies will take any helpful action on behalf of women or any vulnerable group being targeted. While most companies do have mechanisms in place to respond to these violations, there’s very little public information about how they work. We also don’t know what kind of training staff receive and what kinds of values are informing the decisions that are being made. And lastly, there’s a tendency to shift the burden of dealing with this kind of harassment to the state or national governments. And I think we really are missing out on an important opportunity to really begin to shift things.”

In order to demand changes, Take Back the Tech! calls all users to take action by participating in the following ways:

  • Ask: “What are you doing about violence against women?” Demand more information from these companies under #WhatAreYouDoingAboutVAW.
  • Rate: Rate social media on various aspects related to violence against women. The simple evaluation form allows you to rate Facebook, Twitter YouTube and the platform of your choice using a grade from A to F, according to the following indicators:
  1. Transparency on procedures for reporting abuse (including what happens to reports once submitted)
  2. Ease of reporting abuse
  3. Responsiveness to needs of non-US/European women
  4. Overall approach to violence against women
  5. Commitment to human rights, including women’s rights
  • Demand: Tell these companies what you want from them and share your ideas for solutions.

“The report cards were a big hit at IGF and helped people see that we’re not dealing solely with political speech on government action but a much broader range of speech. After seeing the grades, Ranking Digital Rights committed to including the findings from our research in their chapter on gender and Google wanted to learn more. We even invited Google and Facebook to rate themselves!,” said Sara Baker, Take Back the Tech! campaign coordinator.

The results of the ratings submitted by individual users and organisations will be shared publicly after they are compiled. Stay in touch to find out how Facebook, Twitter and YouTube were rated by users!

Use #WhatAreYouDoingAboutVAW and follow @takebackthetech for the continuing conversation.

To interview our team members and partners or need more information, please contact us at info@takebackthetech.net

Resources for the media

Research results about Facebook, Twitter and YouTube
Press brief: What are Facebook, Twitter, YouTube doing about violence against women?
Report card
Campaign kit
Campaign flyer
Articles on VAW and ICT
Campaign graphics
Digital story ‘It is ‘only’ love’
Map on tech-related VAW

About the Take Back the Tech! campaign
Take Back the Tech! is a collaborative campaign to reclaim information and communication technologies (ICT) to end violence against women (VAW). The campaign calls on all ICT users – especially women and girls – to take control of technology and use it for activism against gender-based violence.

About the Association for Progressive Communications
The Association for Progressive Communications (APC) is an international network and non-profit organisation founded in 1990 that wants everyone to have access to a free and open internet to improve lives and create a more just world.

Media contact
Flavia Fascendini
WRP communications associate
Tel: + 55 02477 640312

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