United Nations Says We Need To “Wake Up” & Fight Online Harassment Against Women


October is national bullying prevention month. And we have to say, it is about time the world, especially the tech world, got a wake up call and realized something needs to be done about cyber bullying and online harassment. We are very surprised that the Gamergate scandal of 2014 wasn’t enough of a wake up call. It saw a number of female video game developers and one high-profile Youtuber Anita Sarkeesian who speaks about the sexism that exists toward women in video games get harassed to the point where mass shootings were being threatened, and the FBI had to be called because personal details of the girls were being leaked online by hackers and stalkers in a bid to shut them up. Thankfully these women did not shut up, but the toll it took on them is horrible.

It’s really shocking that more tech companies haven’t made the move to lead the way on this issue. Twitter, which can be a haven for anonymous online bullies, often referred to as “trolls”, has started to make moves in changing the way users can report harassment. At the end of 2014 they teamed up with a women’s organization in order to create a reporting tool that would be more effective, based on the patterns and data we know about cyber bullying.

We’d love to see more social media platforms step up to the plate, especially Google, because it’s no secret that Youtube has become a place where trolls and bullies essentially have free reign in the comments section without any sort of accountability or regulation. Thankfully there are sites like VProud, a social networking site geared toward women, which were created to combat this issue.


They have custom-built software that doesn’t allow trolls or harassment to get through their filters, and they also rely on their members to be active in reporting activity that is deemed negative or offensive. So why can’t more online destinations be as socially responsible?

Well the United Nations is asking the same question, after they released a report from the UN Broadband Commission for Digital Development aimed at mobilizing the private sector after finding online harassment disproportionately affects women and girls. The report estimates 1 in 3 women around the world will experience some form of violence in her lifetime, with with cyber bullying, those stats increase.

“Our research suggests that 73% of women have already been exposed to or have experienced some form of online violence. With social networks still in their relative infancy, this is a problem that urgently needs to be addressed if the Net is to remain an open and empowering space for all,” it states.

“The sheer volume of cyber [violence against women and girls] has severe social and economic implications for women’s status on the Internet. Threats of rape, death, and stalking put a premium on women’s emotional bandwidth, take-up time and financial resources including legal fees, online protection services, and missed wages. Cyber VAWG can have a profoundly chilling effect on free speech and advocacy,” the study continued.

They identified 6 specific trends in online harassment, which are becoming increasingly rampant because of the use of mobile devices making it easier to have access to the internet: harassment, impersonation (for example, sending emails as someone else), surveillance (recording a victim’s keystrokes or other behavior), hacking into a victim’s accounts to steal information or control a device, using fake profiles or other means to lure someone into a dangerous situation, and sharing or threatening to share private media like nude photos.

It is a relatively new phenomenon and there are many authorities and government organizations that have no idea how to deal with it. Which is why it is more important than ever that the private tech sector play a huge role in helping governing bodies understand the root of the problem and all its complexities, compared to other types of digital crimes.


And there certainly are people in tech speaking out. Tim Berners-Lee, founder of the World Wide Web, has publicly stated that more needs to be done to stop the epidemic of cyber violence against women and girls. In February, Twitter CEO Dick Costolo literally admitted that they “suck at dealing with abuse,” and that Twitter was losing users because of it.

Just recently we saw how world leaders agreed to adopt 17 new Sustainable Development Goals as outlined by the UN, and one of those goals is gender equality. Anna North at the New York Times pointed out how fighting cyber bullying is absolutely a part of this goal, since the internet is an integral part of everyday life for the majority of us around the world.

“[Gender Equality] can’t be achieved if women aren’t safe online. Fighting harassment by an enormous number of often anonymous users across a variety of different platforms won’t be easy. But acknowledging it as a serious problem requiring attention at a global scale is, at least, a step,” she writes.


In a statement echoing the importance of taking action in light of this new study, UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka shared her thoughts on why the issue of cyber harassment needs to be stopped.

“Online violence has subverted the original positive promise of the internet’s freedoms. And in too many circumstances has made it a chilling space that permits anonymous cruelty and facilitates harmful acts towards women and girls. That means recognizing the scale and depth of the damage being done — and taking strong, concerted steps to call it — and stop it,” she said.

In an effort to be part of the change, we believe sharing vital information and encouraging our readers to be vigilant to stand up against cyber harassment is important. We know girls and women are the majority of targets and victims, but it happens to others as well. We want to be a community that takes action. Which is why we thought it would be best to end by sharing this video made by our friends at Muse Dance Company who use performance art as a vehicle to share powerful messages. One of the issues they feel strongly about is bullying, and made this viral video in 2014 to inspire action against this issue.

Now they have created another video asking people in Santa Monica, CA what they know about cyber bullying. Their idea was to encourage young men and women to be proactive about this issue, not just a bystander. While we can push our governments and corporate sectors to do their part in ensuring the systems we operate in on a daily basis are designed to protect us and help us flourish, it does not absolve us of any social responsibility to change mindsets and attitudes about online harassment.

Thanks United Nations for the wake up call!



  1. Pingback: Twitter Launches #PositionOfStrength Campaign To Prevent Cyber Harassment Toward Women - GirlTalkHQ

  2. Pingback: Youtube Sensation Lilly Singh, Aka Superwoman, Calls For An End To Girl On Girl Hate - GirlTalkHQ

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.