A spokesperson for the United Nations International Telecommunication Union (ITU) apologized for several errors and poorly sourced material in its Broadband Commission Cyber Violence Against Women and Girls Report, and vowed that it would be much improved in a forthcoming revision.
On September 24, the United Nations Broadband Commission for Digital Development released what it called "a world-wide wake-up call" about the dangers of "cyberviolence" that women and girls around the world face while online. Social media, video games, and sexting, among other things, contribute to this cyberviolence, it argued.
The report was immediately controversial, and even victims of online harassment were highly critical.
Most media criticism focused on the footnotes, first scrutinized by Twitter user Jaime Bravo. Some of the citations were left blank, others provided definitions without citing the source, and one even cited a file on the author's own C: drive.
The report also cited a publication affiliated with controversial activist Lyndon LaRouche, who claimed a link exists between video games such as Pokémon with real world killings.
What went wrong? To answer that question I spoke with Sarah Parkes, media and public information chief at ITU in Geneva, Switzerland. She is now ultimately responsible for the report and will be the final person to sign off on the revision.
"We got a lot of feedback on it and some of it has been very constructive," she told me over the phone. "Some from academia have contributed research. We are very pleased that the digital environment allows this quite quick collaboration."
The report has been replaced on its website with bullet points (PDF), which do not mention video games or sexting, but do refer to the heightened risk that women and girls face while online.
She expects to have an executive summary on the website very soon.
"Really, the big problem was footnoting which was not up to standard and we very much regret that," said Parkes. "That is being revised very thoroughly. We are adamant that we will have these [footnotes] all corrected."
I asked her about the report's association of violent video games with real world violence. "We've had a professor from a university share some of the studies [related to video game violence] with us and that will be reflected in the revised research. It's a difficult area because there are certainly studies that show no link [to real world violence]. But I think on the other side of the debate there's still some question because there's no longitudinal study. This is an area where it's complicated and I think we need to rely on the psychological studies."
When I asked her what went wrong with the report, she offered an apology. "I think it's just a product of the terrible scramble around the launch date. It was a hugely busy period for the UN. We apologize very much for the errors and I hope we'll be able to rectify them. Our priority is to get it back up in 100 percent correct state."
What do they want to accomplish with the report? "It is just to raise awareness," she said. "We just wanted to stimulate debate and say this is an area of increasing concern and it needs to be discussed."
Of particular interest to her was reaching out to underdeveloped countries. "If we could stimulate debate and discussion from the developing world that would be extremely helpful. So one of the goals is to bring this to the community where we can talk about this."
Parkes hopes to have the report itself fully revised within two weeks, but has no definitive time frame.