Progressive women’s advocates doing controversial work are often at risk of physical violence and online harassment because of their online presence.
To help those advocates navigate social media safely, Tactical Technology launched to ensure that, in an increasingly digital age, they don’t end up more vulnerable than ever.
“For some women who are politically active and vocal, there may be intimidation online, for others it may be more serious — like threats to kill their children,” says Maya Indira Ganesh, director of applied research at Tactical Technology, a Berlin-based organization supporting and educating human rights defenders on how to use technology safely.
The group helps women like Nataly, who works for a women’s rights organization in the Caucasus, on the border of Europe and Asia. Her organization provides safe spaces for women who are fleeing abusive situations.
As her organization moved toward using more social media and online outreach, their progressive work generated controversy locally. After setting up a series of campaigns on Facebook, the members began receiving threats, and in some instances were the victims of physical violence.
Things moved offline to street protests with the organization being accused of disrupting family values because of its untraditional opinions about women’s rights.
The team quickly tried to find out how to use some basic digital, as well as physical, security protocols. “We started exchanging information and doing things that are obvious, like changing passwords, thinking about what to put online and what not to, how to deal with comments on Facebook and how to monitor ourselves more,” says Nataly.
Technology used tactically can and will advance society toward a more equal and peaceful place.
They worked with other local women’s groups who were being threatened and set up a secret Facebook group to document attacks. Tracking incidents together enabled them to find common patterns in the behaviors of their harassers, trace who was responsible and reduce the attacks.
That’s only one example of aid Tactical Technology provides. In 2014, the group set up a global Gender and Tech Pop Up Institute — a mainly virtual gathering of feminists and human rights defenders who teach each other protective cyber tools and tactics so they can continue their work.
“There is a huge risk of women’s voices being silenced as they censor themselves online, fearing for their safety,” warns Ganesh.
News reports point toward a new epidemic. In March, the online security firm Norton found, in a survey of 1,000 Australian women, that online harassment of females is at risk of becoming “an established norm in our digital society.”
Nearly half the respondents had experienced some form of abuse or harassment online. Among women under 30, the figure jumped to 76 percent.
In the same week, Honduras saw one of its prominent feminist activists and environmental defenders, Berta Caceres, assassinated. She had known her life was in grave danger.
The organization is ensuring more and more women are equipped in the fight against this epidemic. In 2015, Tactical Tech reached more than 5,000 human rights defenders, activists, journalists and others directly through trainings, workshops, talks and cultural events. Online resources were accessed 2.5 million times.
The organization is now looking to link up with the Just Associates Network, which has substantial reach in Central America. It’s a new but vital territory and significant hot spot for the institution. Patriarchal norms are rife and El Salvador, for example, has the highest rate of femicide of any country in the world.
Technology used tactically can and will advance society toward a more equal and peaceful place, we deeply feel this. Tactical Tech is enabling the brave women of our world who are risking everything to make earth a better place for us all, to do their work as safely as possible.