Digital whistleblowing

Digital activism and sexual abuse

Thoughts from Digital Awareness UK about the anonymous reporting of sexual abuse through platforms like Everyone's Invited

March 31, 2021

The anonymous reporting of sexual harassment is a trend that is very much here to stay, as people turn to digital platforms to share brave and deeply disturbing testimonials of abuse. Everyone’s Invited was not the first and it most certainly will not be the last as the rise of digital whistleblowing takes hold.

Our love/hate relationship with anonymity has led to many sleepless nights at Digital Awareness UK after speaking to countless young people about their experiences – from seeing child pornography on the dark net to horrific racist memes on anonymous social media accounts. In a week when Thierry Henry decided to remove himself from social media saying “it is far too easy to create an account, use it to bully and harass without consequence and still remain anonymous”, thousands of young people are using anonymity to join a movement that aims to “eradicate rape culture”.

We have listened to students first-hand over the years as they’ve told us about numerous online platforms, which are being leveraged to share anonymous depictions of the abuse they’ve suffered. The rise of digital whistleblowing coupled with the fact that (thanks to all the great work being done in schools and beyond - #MeToo, #BLM etc.) young people are being encouraged to find their voices and report injustices, has led us to this pivotal moment in the digital revolution. If the institutions, families and anyone else involved in this movement take the right steps to support those who've suffered and hold perpetrators to account, justice may be served. If they don’t of course, they will face a second wave (dare I use that term) of crisis, as people share accounts of how poorly the reported cases of sexual abuse were managed. Not to mention the unimaginable damage it will cause to the people who were brave enough to report them in the first place.

Since we started our business, we have been hammering home the fact that the digital issues such as sexting and hate speech, that we campaign tirelessly to stamp out in schools, are a direct reflection of the societal issues we see in the “real world” such as racism, homophobia, sexism, issues around self-esteem or identity for example.

In my opinion, people don’t sexually abuse others solely because of something they’ve seen on Pornhub or commit crimes because they were inspired when playing Grand Theft Auto. Whilst it would be nice to think the issue is that simple, focusing on the tech means we lose sight of the root of the problem.

But we are under no illusion that technology isn’t blameless in this conversation. The ease at which children (as young as 5) tell us they can access self-harm or even violent sexual content is heart breaking. On many occasions members of our team have broken down as I’m sure many of staff in our schools have after hearing the horrifying experiences children are experiencing online on a daily basis. We must continue to fight for policymakers and tech companies to ensure that the onus is not on people to use their platforms responsibly and report abuse, and is instead on the platforms themselves to ensure their technology can’t be used in damaging ways.

Digital media allows people to do things, good and bad. Our stance on sharing how fantastic the digital world can be when it’s used for good helps us to have balanced conversations about some of the dangers. Ultimately, the choices young people make as to how they choose to use digital media is born out of their value systems.

As with the Black Lives Matter movement, we are currently experiencing the ultimate ‘teachable moment’. An opportunity to educate our children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews, students, sports teams, everyone about how to treat people respectfully and with compassion. We use this as an opportunity to discuss topics like consent and set our expectations for how our children should treat others and expect to be treated.

Most importantly as parents, teachers, influencers, business leaders, as responsible adults, we walk the walk while we’re doing it.

Our optimism surrounding the positive impact the digital world will have on future generations has been tested to its limits in recent weeks. But we still have an unwavering belief that overall, more good than bad will come from this. As long as we all ‘lean in’ and fight the good fight.

Emma Robertson (Founder of Digital Awareness UK)

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