WHAT IS DIGITAL ACTIVISM?
Digital activism is a form of activism that uses the internet and digital media as essential platforms for mass mobilization and political action. It is also called cyberactivism. Another way to explain digital activism is, the use of social media, SMS, blogs, vlogs, online petitions, etc, to bring about some kind of social change in the society. India has a vast population of 1.34 billion people and according to reports released by TRAI, the number of telephone subscribers is 1.2 billion and the number of internet users is 32% that is, 432 million. With such a huge user base in India, the Internet is a workable medium for bringing desired social impact. Nevertheless, like every other idea or subject, even digital activism has its pros and cons. This form of activism is cost friendly, requiring minimum effort from the organisers and supporters of the issue. With an idea of acting as a team, an issue can be dealt with. Such ideas can trigger a change in the society, more importantly the public shaping their opinion to help the cause. Social media events, protests and campaigns can be made with an action-plan taken by a small group of committed activists, students, or like-minded people reaching out to wider audiences. People can have a measure of the number of people supporting the cause by signing the petition through platforms like change.org. These forms of activism are symbolic and persuasive and hence, can be less harmful. Some challenges faced in digital activism are, many a times, the key issue to be solved gets lost in the process of campaigning. For example, the ALS Ice bucket challenge, which was started to promote awareness of the disease amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, though it was quite successful, the cause was confused as a fun activity. On digital media platforms, it is noticed that there are outrages leading to unwanted arguments between people without any meaningful purpose. One more such disadvantage is that, there is no absolute protection even after being anonymous on the web because digital footprints are easy to collect and track.
“Feminism isn’t about making women strong. Women are already strong. It’s about changing the way the world perceives that strength.”
As a general definition, women empowerment is a multi-dimensional process that helps women gain control over their own lives. It is a process that fosters power, i.e., that capacity to implement, in women, for use in their own lives, their communities, and in their society by acting on issues that they consider important. Women empowerment is multi-dimensional because it occurs within sociological, psychological, economic, and various other dimensions. Women empowerment have five basic components :
- Women’s sense of self-worth;
- Their right to have and to determine choices;
- Their right to have access to opportunities and resources;
- Their right to have power to control their own lives, both within and outside their home;
- And their ability to influence the direction of social change to create more just social and economic order, nationally and internationally.
Digital activism can be used as an essential tool for women empowerment. There have been various trending hashtags that have brought about an important revolution in the lives of many women.
Tarana Burke who is an American activist has been working towards achieving gender equity. She founded the #metoo movement. A survivor of sexual violence herself, she initiated a platform for women with similar such experiences to connect with other women in a digital platform. Renowned actresses like Alyssa Milano, Rese Witherspoon, America Ferrera, Jennifer Lawrence, Angelina Jolie, Lady Gaga, etc joined the #metoo movement. In this process the power of social media took over and people, on an international scale, came across a deluge of confessions and solidarity from women who had been silent about their experiences of sexual violence. The hashtag not only became a foundation to communicate but also became a demand to end sexual violence.
The UN took a stand in the advancement of gender equality by initiating the HeForShe movement. Our Goodwill Ambassador, Emma Watson used the power of social media to bring people together (target audience was men) for achieving women’s rights and gender equality. After the campaign was launched, a huge audience used #HeForShe as a means to show commitment in putting an end to gender discrimination. This was a successful campaign which reached millions of people around the globe including many other leaders and influencers.
Dina Smailova, an activist from Kazakhstan had kept her rape a secret for 25 years. She was raped by a group of classmates when she was 20 years old and later on, she lost ties with her friends and relatives. She felt isolated from her mother too because she told Dina that she had shamed the family. In 2016, Dina broke her silence by sharing her story through a Facebook post. Immediately, women began commenting and replying to the post about their own similar experiences with violence. It was the first time, Dina said, that they were talking openly about this issue in Kazakhstan. She has also supported more than 200 sexual violence survivors and has won many sexual violence cases in court.
Ana Vasileva, a women’s right activist and a member of the feminist collective, has contributed to the UN Women’s initiative. She published a blog based on rape culture in fYR Macedonia. She was inspired by a trending hashtag on twitter, i.e., #TheyCalledHer which was very sexist and misogynistic under the pretext of humor. She became a target of online abuse because of her blog but Vasileva was not the one to give up and hence she came up with a hashtag against sexual harassment called #ISpeakUpNow.
Some challenges that women come across while using digital technology are :
- Lack of skill and access – Women in rural areas and other marginalised communities struggle for access and mostly lack the skills and knowledge to use digital platforms. This adds to the already existing wage gap and this further implies that women, even in the 21st century, will have a hard time accessing employment opportunities because nowadays most jobs require such kind of knowledge online.
- Online harassment – Many women have been targets for online trolls and in the process female voices are shamed, marginalised and taunted. Women are bound to face severe harassments once they are active in cyber space.
- Under-representation of women in fields of computer science – As we note the absence of women in the fields that shape the design of technology, there is a digital bias.
LEGAL PROVISIONS ON THE REGULATION OF DIGITAL COMMUNICATIONS
The Information Technology Act was enacted in 2000 and has been revised in 2008. The Information Technology (Amendment) Act, 2008 has added several provisions that are said to be privacy-centric. Section 43 provides for penalty and compensation for damage to the computer or computer system. Section 66 talks about computer related offences, Section 66-C about punishment for Identity Theft or Hacking, Section 66-D about punishment for Cheating by personation by using a computer source, Section 66-E deals with punishment for violation of privacy. Section 67-C provides for Preservation and Retention of information by intermediaries, Section 69 about state power to issue directions for interceptions or monitoring or decryption of any information through any computer source. Section 72 is a provision regarding privacy and confidentiality and Section 72-A speaks about Punishment for Disclosure of information as breach of lawful contact. These provisions relate to computer or cybercrimes.
The IT Act makes hacking and tampering with computer source an offence and penalizes unlawful access to data. However, it does not prescribe any security standards which the parties have in control of data should comply with except in cases of personal sensitive information. The Justice BN Shrikrishna Committee was formed to propose a draft data protection regime to identify current problems and possible statutory protections. The Data (Privacy and Protection) Bill, 2018, provides a statutory Right to Privacy. The Bill as discussed several emerging privacy issues like ‘legitimate expectations’, BHIM (Bharat Interface for Money), ‘due diligence’, ‘consent criterion’ and online banking. Till the enactment of this legislation, there is a confused situation regarding privacy specifically in women’s context. The Supreme Court has made the ‘Right to Privacy’ a fundamental right. It is therefore required to give utmost importance to digital feminist activism and the privacy of their information.
In the digital world, women must think smartly while handling data and information on the internet. To be on the safer side, women must keep themselves from oversharing complete details on digital forums. Such platforms must be used for the expression of firm points rather than making hate speech. The choice of response is the sole responsibility of e-users. Women must approach the police agencies without hesitating, if their privacy is threatened. Along with this, ‘Freedom of Speech and Expression’ is a fundamental right. However, the expression must be regulated by women users so that their data or privacy is threatened.