April 28, 2021 – Toronto, Ontario
The Women’s Legal Education and Action Fund (LEAF) has released a new report, “Deplatforming Misogyny”, on the role of digital platforms in the proliferation of technology-facilitated gender-based violence, abuse, and harassment (“TFGBV”). The report, authored by technology and human rights lawyer Cynthia Khoo, calls for federal action to address TFGBV, including holding digital platforms accountable for TFGBV through regulation or legal liability. The calls come as the federal government prepares to introduce legislation to address online hate.
TFGBV refers to conduct involving the use of technology to perpetuate violence, abuse or harassment against women and girls. Online platforms like Twitter, YouTube, Reddit, and Facebook have become central venues of our personal and professional lives. It is therefore no surprise that online platforms have become central sites of TFGBV, which has often been exacerbated by the actions, or inactions, of platform companies.
“Technology-facilitated gender-based violence threatens the security and safety of women and girls, who are disproportionately the targets of abuse in digital spaces. This abuse silences women and girls, forces them to self-censor, and deprives them of the ability to participate fully in the world.”Pam Hrick, Executive Director and General Counsel of LEAF
LEAF’s calls for federal action in Canada are guided by intersectional feminist and equality principles. In addition, LEAF’s report and recommendations draw on lessons from abroad, through an examination of six other governments’ efforts to address the role of platforms in technology-facilitated violence.
Canadian constitutional and human rights law has repeatedly recognized the necessity and justifiability of limiting freedom of expression in order to uphold equality rights. Both the law and the systemic gendered impact of TFGBV justify imposing legal obligations or liability on digital platforms for TFGBV by a user.
“The federal government should hold digital platforms accountable for their role in facilitating technology-facilitated gender-based violence and abuse. However, any forthcoming legislation must centre substantive equality, reflect the lived experiences of those impacted by systemic oppression, and be constitutionally nuanced.”Cynthia Khoo, Technology and Human Rights Lawyer
LEAF’s fourteen recommendations for federal action include:
- Establish a centralized expert regulator for TFGBV specifically, with a dual mandate: a) to provide legal remedies and support to individuals impacted by TFGBV on digital platforms, including regulatory and enforcement powers; and b) to develop research on TFGBV and provide training and education to the public, relevant stakeholders, and professionals.
- Ensure that legislation addressing TFGBV integrates substantive equality considerations and guards against exploitation by members of dominant social groups to silence expression by members of historically marginalized groups.
- Enact a law that allows for victims/survivors of TFGBV to obtain immediate removal of certain clearly defined kinds of content from a platform without a court order, such as the non-consensual distribution of intimate images.
- Require platform companies to undergo independent audits (which could be conducted by the new TFGBV agency) and publish comprehensive annual transparency reports.
- Fund frontline support workers and community-based organizations working to end, and supporting victims/survivors of, gender-based violence, abuse, and harassment, specifically to enhance their internal expertise, resources, and capacity to support those impacted by TFGBV (which often accompanies gender-based violence and abuse).
Read the executive summary and the full report here.
Please join us for the launch event for the report at 11:30am EST, where Khoo will be discussing her research findings for this report. This panel will also feature remarks from Dr. Emily Laidlaw (University of Calgary) and Molly Reynolds (Torys LLP; member of LEAF’s Technology-Facilitated Violence Project Advisory Committee). RSVP to the launch event.
This report was funded by the generous support of: the Canadian Bar Association’s Law for the Future Fund; the Pilot Fund for Gender Equality, a collaboration between Community Foundations of Canada and the Equality Fund, with support from the Government of Canada; and the J. Armand Bombardier Foundation.
For media inquiries, contact:
Author, “Deplatforming Misogyny”
Technology and Human Rights Lawyer & Researcher
Executive Director & General Counsel
Women’s Legal Education and Action Fund (LEAF)
Staff Lawyer and Chair, LEAF’s Technology-Facilitated Violence Project
Women’s Legal Education and Action Fund
About the Women’s Legal Education and Action Fund (LEAF)
The Women’s Legal Education and Action Fund (LEAF) is a national non-profit organization that works to advance the substantive equality rights of women and girls through litigation, law reform, and public education. Since 1985, it has intervened in landmark cases that have advanced equality in Canada—helping to prevent violence, eliminate discrimination in the workplace, provide better maternity benefits, ensure a right to pay equity, and allow access to reproductive freedoms. For more information, please visit www.leaf.ca.