There has been limited public dialogue surrounding the fact that online ‘bullying’ does not operate independently from sexism, racism, and other forms of discrimination. While hate speech and violence against women and girls are not new phenomena, the increasing use of web-based platforms to perpetuate such hate means that perpetrators can remain anonymous while widening their audience and impact. The goal of our project was for women and girls to have access to appropriate legal tools and information to uphold their rights and respond to online hate speech when it happens.
Why this project?
The online harassment and abuse of women and girls is more visible than ever:
- After a successful campaign to have author Jane Austen featured on the UK £10 note, journalist and feminist Caroline Criado-Perez received a staggering number of rape threats on Twitter, reporting as many as 50 hateful posts in one hour.
- Men pose as their exes online, posting Craigslist ads soliciting strangers to come to the women’s houses and rape them and their children. Women’s addresses are listed in the ads, and their photos are often included. Scores of strange men answer the ‘ads’, knocking on doors or attempting to break in at all hours of the day or night.
- A woman poses naked for photos taken by her boyfriend. After they split up, the boyfriend posts the photos on a website designed for “revenge porn”. The site is set up with the express purpose of posting photos without a woman’s permission, along with personal information such as her name, address, and links to her social media accounts.
These examples are only a few of many, yet they showcase the horrifying levels of hate and misogyny directed at women online. Such acts have real and possibly fatal consequences, as in the high profile and heartbreaking cases of Amanda Todd and Rehtaeh Parsons.
The law in Canada is inconsistent and fragmented in dealing with these problems and there are many questions. Can law be used to limit the expressions of misogyny online or is this contrary to freedom of speech? Can legal regulation be effective in addressing these issues and holding abusers accountable?
What we did
We conducted a legal research project and wrote a research report that considered the following questions:
- What legal responses to cyber misogyny exist in Canada, and what are their pros and cons?
- What responses exist in other countries, and are they working?
- What legal strategies and tools are there for women and girls who experience cyber misogyny?
- How can policymakers fix the gaps in current legislation?
We also conducted community consultations and focus groups with both youth service providers and with youth themselves to develop a workshop curriculum that addresses the legal rights of youth online, which is complemented by a youth-friendly legal guide. Information about all of these is below.
We concluded that failing to regulate cyber misogyny limits freedom of speech rather than the other way around. Women and girls have a right to express themselves online without being silenced by hateful, harassing and misogynistic responses.
Final Report & Deliverables