Unveiling Impact: How Media Misrepresentation Fuels Technology Facilitated GBV

Technology Facilitated Gender-Based Violence (TFGBV) remains a critical issue in Tanzania and East African region in general, amplified by media misrepresentation and the rapid adoption of new technologies. To combat the portrayal of women in media that perpetuates TFGBV and online violence against women, Tech & Media Convergency (TMC) through it’s Women at Web program partnering with the Dig It with Iman Podcast and Partners, has started a series of conversations bringing expert opinions together aimed at creating awareness on the matter.

Building upon the study done by TMC titled, “A Comprehensive Analysis: Uncovering Journalistic Perspective on Online Gender Based Violence, December 2023” – the findings showed that there is a stark divergence in perspectives regarding OGBV’s impact on female journalists’ online engagement. While a minority (30%) acknowledge OGBV as a barrier, a significant portion (41%) do not perceive it as hindering their online activity, signaling a critical need for awareness and understanding. Furthermore, the recent report by DW Akademie titled, “Examining Media Coverage of Online Violence Against Women in East Africa” highlights the persistent and rising rates of OGBV, showing how media reporting on online violence against women in East Africa often harms victims rather than protecting them.

The Panelists – Expert Contributors of the first Webinar Series

The session was held June 7th, 2024 brought together other partner organizations’ and representatives. The session was moderated by Imani Henrick Luvanga, a Digital Rights and Gender Justice Advocate, and the Founder and Host of the “Dig it With Imani” podcast. The speakers included Najma Matengo, a Fact-checking Journalist, Digital Creator, and Program Coordinator at Pollicy Organisation; Cecilia Maundu, a Broadcast Journalist, Digital Rights Researcher, and Founder of the Digital Dada Podcast; and Annelies Rwebangira, a Gender Advocate and Programs Manager at the National Democratic Institute and also Maphosa Banduka, Chief Operations Officer at Nukta Africa LTD

Media’s Role in Amplifying OGBV

Cecilia Maundu, a prominent voice in the fight against OGBV, stressed that media houses played a significant role in amplifying online violence. “It is saddening because the situation of OGBV is still the same, and the rates are getting higher, amplified by media houses,” she explained. “The concept of OGBV is not well understood, and society has not yet accepted it as a form of violence because it does not involve physical harm.”

Despite numerous campaigns, the lack of political goodwill and comprehensive legal frameworks hampered efforts to address the issue effectively. Women journalists, politicians, and young girls entering the online space were particularly vulnerable to OGBV. Cecilia emphasized the urgent need for media reform and stronger legal protections to combat the pervasive issue of online gender-based violence.

Emerging Technologies such as Artificial Intelligence and it’s Risks on TFGBV

Technological advancements such as facial recognition, location tracking, and surveillance devices have also contributed to the increase in TFGBV. Najma Matengo pointed out, “There is a significant problem with these technological advancements. AI can generate fake photos, videos – and apps demanding biometric data pose risks as people often share sensitive data without knowing how it is stored or used from simple technologies such as filters for the face.”

The rapid emergence of such applications, coupled with a lack of awareness about data protection, has made it easier for perpetrators to exploit women online. Najma emphasized that there is a critical gap in digital literacy and the urgent need for comprehensive data protection laws. Her observations indicated the importance of educating the public on safeguarding personal digital information and the potential dangers posed by advanced technologies. Without such measures, the misuse of technology will continue to exacerbate the vulnerability of women in online spaces.

Challenges in Raising Awareness and Fact-Checking

One of the major challenges in combating OGBV is the low response from victims when journalists attempt to fact-check information. Many victims are either unaware of the impact on their reputations or are uncooperative, making it difficult to verify and address false information. This challenge underscores the need for journalists to be trained in ethical and gender-sensitive reporting. Proper training can help media professionals navigate these complexities and ensure accurate and respectful coverage of OGBV cases.

Maphosa Banduka emphasized the importance of educating society on the correct use of technology and the impacts of OGBV. “When someone faces OGBV, media professionals should fact-check the information by talking to the victim one-on-one. We use this as a learning point for society, aiming to educate rather than publicize the victim’s experience,” she explained.

Social media campaigns can also help raise awareness about how OGBV affects real people and damages reputations and lives. Maphosa’s insights highlight the dual role of media in both verifying facts and using these opportunities to educate the public, thereby fostering a more informed and empathetic society. Effective communication strategies and educational campaigns are crucial in reducing the stigma around OGBV and encouraging victims to come forward.

The Need for Comprehensive Strategies on Legal Landscape

Annelies Rwebangira highlighted several strategies for policymakers and lawmakers to consider. “There should be increased awareness of OGBV, and media-affiliated stakeholders should collaborate to raise voices against OGBV. Training reporters on ethical reporting and gender sensitivity is crucial,” she stated. “Additionally, advocacy campaigns on safe digital spaces can help impart OGBV knowledge to the community. Laws should include preventative measures and punitive actions, and we need to understand the processes that follow identifying OGBV perpetrators.”

Annelies emphasized that gender desks in police stations, which are intended to address gender-based violence issues, often do not take OGBV seriously. Continuous awareness campaigns and stakeholder collaboration are essential to bring this violation to light. She suggested that the Tanzania Communications Regulatory Authority (TCRA) should occasionally share data on the OGBV status, which can be used as references in discussions. Other stakeholders should also conduct research-based studies to show how prevalent OGBV is and how to address it effectively.

Annelies perspective showed the need for a multi-faceted approach to combating OGBV, involving legal reforms, media responsibility, and active participation from various stakeholders. By promoting ethical journalism, increasing public awareness, and ensuring that laws are both preventative and punitive, society can better address the pervasive issue of online gender-based violence. The call for more rigorous data sharing and research highlights the importance of evidence-based strategies in shaping effective policies and interventions.

A way forward

Aside from all the contributions, the speakers emphasized awareness and digital literacy as crucial aspects in ensuring that society recognizes the impacts of online misrepresentation and learns how to address it. Journalists and media alone cannot bear this responsibility; it requires a collective effort from all sectors.  More than before, this discussion amplifies the need for other conversations with hope that there will be more matters that are exposed in addressing TFGBV. As more women enter the online space, the urgency to tackle OGBV grows. It is imperative that media, policymakers, and society work together to create a safer digital environment for all.

The session is available through the Dig it Imani Podcast. To learn more on the Women at Web Program – https://linktr.ee/WomenAtWebTZ