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How Safe Are Indian Women Online?

Let’s bring more women on social media, that is how we can deal with trolls: An online safety summit focuses on solutions.
Kiran Manral (extreme left) in conversation with Mahima Kaul, Nazia Erum, Ngurang Reena and psychologist Anita Mishra. 

Women have it really rough out on the internet. The recent harassment of journalist and author Rana Ayyub is testament to this fact. With the number of Indian women on social media increasing—about 30 percent of Internet users in India are women—the problem of trolls and anonymous threats to women is also becoming rampant. How do we find solutions that help women deal with online harassment, fake news, and help them empower and amplify their voices in the digital space?

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The second edition of the Online Safety Summit for Women, organised by SheThePeople.TV, that was held in the national capital on Tuesday, August 28 tried to answer exactly that. The event was supported by Facebook, Twitter, Colors and UN Women.

The summit this year featured four panel discussions, ‘Ask Me Anything’ by Gurmehar Kaur, author and student activist, and a workshop on online safety for women. It focussed on discussing solutions for sexual harassment that women face on online portals, how to increase women’s presence on social media, and the misinformation targeting women.

Shaili Chopra talking to Nalin Mehta of TOI, Rahul Srivastava of UP Police, KG Suresh, Director IIMC, Pratik Sinha of Alt News and Niharika Pande of Facebook.

THE SITUATION
Shaili Chopra, founder of SheThePeople.TV said, “Patriarchal behaviour extends to the online world, including a backward value system that believes access to data and internet is ‘ruining’ the lives of women. We focus on a positive dialogue and put the spotlight on solutions and safety tools available for women.” The event tried to highlight the importance of digital literacy as more and more Indian women find themselves online. The speakers included Mahima Kaul from Twitter, Pankaj Pachauri of GoNews, Nalin Mehta of Times of India, Pratik Sinha of Alt New, Ngurang Reena, Assistant Professor at Department of Political Science, Delhi University, Rahul Srivastava of UP Police, Syed Nazakat of DataLEADS, and IT expert Prasanto Roy amongst others.

KNOW YOUR ONLINE SPACE & RIGHTS
It was Mahima Kaul from Twitter who pointed out that a lot of the security can be controlled by the female user herself. “It is an important opportunity to learn and engage with our larger community and update them on the work Twitter does on online safety, which is a priority area for us.” She added, “Everyone should go to their social media settings and see what all we have for them,” talking about various safety and privacy settings on all apps including Twitter. Talking about the toll negativity sometimes takes on us, she admitted, “It is OK to detox, take a break from Twitter. I am going to do it this weekend.”

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One of the panels also focussed on law enforcement in the online world. Talish Ray, an advocate who was present at the summit said, “As far as trolling, fake news and cybercrimes go, there are existing laws, but there is a bit of a lacuna there as our understanding of the medium itself has changed.”

A full house at the summit that was held at India Habitat Centre.

HOW TO DEAL WITH TROLLS
When asked how she deals with online trolls, Nazia Erum, author of Mothering a Muslim said, “Mute them.” The hall reverberated with laughter and clapping. Then on a serious note she added, “It takes me five minutes to frame a response to a troll. While he/she gets paid Rs 20 for this. I am just wasting my time, energy and effort.” She also advocated for the presence of more women on social media. “When we stand together, we can deal with trolls,” she said. Kiran Manral, author of Missing Presumed Dead added, “We need to build circles of trust and solidarity [for women online].” Japleen Pasricha of Feminism in India also conducted a workshop on online safety tools towards the end of the summit. She started it with a fun and interactive session on the strength of passwords. We all shared various tactics to combat harassment.

An edition of the safety summit will also be held in September in Mumbai.

Follow Maroosha Muzaffar on Twitter.