World Wide Web Inventor Warns of Growing Crisis of Online Abuse Against Women


On March 12, 2020, world wide web inventor Sir Tim Berners-Lee of the Web Foundation has released an open letter regarding the dilemma of online abuse against women and AI discrimination. He further points to research that alarms the progress on gender equality. This new research shows that those experiencing online abuse and harassment are mostly young girls.

In the letter, Berners-Lee featured the leash of online threats to women and girls. It also highlighted discrimination against people of color and the LGBTQ+ community. He then criticized the society that allows this kind of abuse. He also talked about inappropriate AI systems that reproduce and enlarge discrimination. A stubborn digital gender range shows that women are more at the receiving end than men.

Findings of online harassment

The Web Foundation and World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts have released global research regarding this. They found out that 8 out of 10 women have experienced online abuse that includes receiving threatening messages and sexual harassment. 84% of the result of young women thinks that this problem has been getting bigger and worse.

A Young Leader of the Girl Guides and Girls Scouts Association of Cyprus named Maria has shared her own experience of harassment online. She expressed her appall over it, stating that “Online harassment has a deep impact on the girls being targeted and allows a harmful, silencing culture to develop”.

UNICEF also released research showing victims of cyber harassment are 3.1 times more susceptible to suicide attempts than those who don’t experience it. It also showed that most women do not report their experience of abuse. It was found that 40% of women journalists avoid reporting on particular articles because of foreseen abuse. Aside from that, many female politicians do not seek re-election due to harassment online.

A solution to fight abuse and harassment

In his open letter, Bergers-Lee has called for governments and companies to take action to curb the issue. Here, he includes five main points to aim for this year to improve the situation:

  • Prioritizing the problem
  • Providing better data
  • Embedding ‘gender equality by design’
  • Building legal protections
  • Being active bystanders

He highlighted that millions of women are unable to connect to the internet. This prevents them from having an education and voicing out their concerns. To add to that, the Web Foundation Director of Policy Emily Sharpe has expressed dismay on women facing misogynistic abuse that affect even their careers.

So far, 25 years have passed since 189 countries agreed on a global plan to empower women. This year will be especially critical, with the Web Foundation hosting a series of conferences to run throughout the year and putting global tech companies together. During these conferences, they will discuss the needs of their customers to develop policies and solutions for other companies to use later on.

Photo credit: The feature image has been taken by Patrick Farrell for Knight Foundation.
Source: Web Foundation / UNICEF / UN

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Dhanelle Gahol
Dhanelle Gahol
Tech Journalist
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