Advocates have a message for social media platforms: Protect women – POLITICO
More than two dozen rights groups, including Amnesty International and AlgorithmWatch, on Thursday urged EU lawmakers to penalize companies like Facebook, YouTube and Twitter if they do not crack down on abuses targeting women.
“The reluctance of social media platforms to take decisive action to reduce gender-based violence online has a real impact – not only on the victims themselves, but also on democracy, freedom of expression and equality of women. sexes ”, groups wrote in a joint letter.
The 26 groups call comes as senior Facebook executives are questioned by the US Senate about the company’s awareness of the use of its platforms to smuggle women and the detrimental effects of platforms on teenage girls, and the apparent lack of action to tackle these issues.
In Germany, the main candidate for the Greens, Annalena Baerbock, was frequently the target of sexist attacks during the country’s election campaign, which some say may have undermined her campaign.
The activists hope their cause will be picked up by European policymakers in Brussels, who are currently working on a law to force tech companies to fight illegal content and be more transparent about their algorithms and how they moderate content.
Representatives in the European Parliament have already introduced amendments to the bill, known as the Digital Services Act, that would make platforms responsible for stopping the sharing of explicit images and videos without consent, known colloquially as the name of vengeful pornography, and would more quickly remove illegal content targeting women. .
But activists also want to force social media companies to tackle their algorithms, which they say amplify and facilitate toxic behaviors that put women at risk.
“The scale of violence and abuse against women online is pushing more and more women away from social media,” said Katarzyna Szymielewicz, co-founder of the digital rights association Panoptykon, and signatory of the letter. . “The platforms have shown this repeatedly that they cannot be trusted to fix themselves, which is why we urgently need strong obligations for them in the digital services law. “
In Europe, nearly three in four women have were victims of harassment, hate speech, violent threats and pornographic revenge last year, according to the Economist Intelligence Unit.
As a result, “young women say they are discouraged from seeking leadership positions,” said Kristina Wilfore, co-founder of the NGO ShePersisted, signatory of the letter, and professor of disinformation at George Washington University. “Women censor themselves or completely disengage from social media.”
In July, Facebook, Google, TikTok and Twitter pledged to overhaul their platforms to prevent women from seeing harmful content against them and more easily report abuse.
But treasures of internal Facebook documents uncovered by the Wall Street Journal show that the company has been ineffective in remedying many of the damage to its platforms.
“It is naïve to appeal to self-regulation and corporate responsibility. Businesses will always put their profit motives above the common good, ”said German MEP Alexandra Geese (Greens), one of the lawmakers working on the EU bill.
Activists want social media companies to reduce the risk their platforms pose to women by adapting their algorithms, features, terms and conditions for content and advertising distribution. They also want the platforms to be independently audited, in addition to requiring the platforms to allow researchers to access their data related to their actions to protect women.
They are also asking for stiff penalties if the platforms do not comply.
“This tries to limit the damage already done by companies through the design of their platforms,” said Danish MP Karen Melchior, who has introduced similar guarantees with other members of her liberal party, Renew Europe, and supports the call.
The Commission, which proposed the bill, insisted that the rules were designed as a framework of broader content moderation to be complemented by specific rules on terrorism, child abuse and gender-based violence.
The EU’s executive body is expected to issue gender-specific rules in December.
Wilfore, the professor, doesn’t want to wait.
“The idea of waiting until we find the perfect legislation when we now have the opportunity to introduce these provisions which will give us some leverage over some of the most powerful companies in the world would be crazy.”
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