Digital markers of violence against women

Digital Markers of Violence Against Women

The internet is a breeding ground for misogyny and violence against women. But with all of the data at our fingertips, why aren’t technological advancements working to prevent gender-based violence?

Over the last year, rates of violence against women have surged worldwide, with the pressure of the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbating an existing crisis. Additionally, there has been an increase in the use of technology to facilitate violence against women. Yet awareness of this issue seems to have done little to prevent the ongoing shadow pandemic.

As lockdowns were announced, femicides increased globally around the world, from Mexico, to South Africa and the U.K. In Quebec, a recent surge in femicides has drawn national attention, but the provincial government has been slow to respond. And the unwillingness to address the issue comes despite the fact that violence against women can often be predicted, particularly through access to, and understanding of, how abusers use technology.

A recent study published in the Journal of General Psychology reveals troubling trends in Google searches that reflect the current state of gender-based violence. According to the study, which examined Google searches in the United States in 2020, “How to hit a woman so no one knows” was typed into Google 163 million times, a 31 percent increase from the previous year. And the search query “how to control your woman” was searched 165 million times, a 67 percent increase.

Unfortunately, abusive searches like these do not direct individuals to resources that can help to prevent violence. Instead, they lead to a frightening web of misogynistic and violent websites that often advocate for violence against women. A 2021 report from the Women’s Legal Education and Action Fund (LEAF) explores how platforms like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Reddit have avoided accountability for the misogynistic and violent communities they foster. LEAF’s report calls for federal action in Canada, guided by feminist principles, to address technology-facilitated gender-based violence.

During the pandemic, many people have been forced inside, but the availability of unregulated user-driven online communities has provided an ideal environment for the development of unchecked violent misogyny. Although the internet is a global forum, it’s time that our government takes responsibility for the way it perpetuates violence in our country.

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