Gendered Persecution: Weaponized Harassment and Disinformation in Online Public Spheres
Online harassment and smear campaigns are increasingly applied as a form of information control to curb free speech and exert power in cyberspace. In recent years, states have appeared to be particularly invested in weaponizing information against dissidents and activists in an attempt at dominating social and political discourses. Targeted harassment of dissidents on social media appears as the most recent form of strategic communication, where particular messages are crafted by state-affiliated actors to manipulate public opinion. In such circumstances, gender often becomes an element of vulnerability that leads to unique challenges for women who are targeted by these tactics.
This session addresses the circumstances under which these coordinated efforts are likely to emerge and the ultimate goals that they pursue in the context of Iran. Moreover, the session seeks to shed light on the latest practices of the Iranian state to extend its ideological arms in cyberspace by crafting and disseminating disinformation against its opposition, in particular women, through social media platforms. The session explores the findings of a mixed method research. It includes references to interviews with prominent Iranian women activists, journalists and public figures as well as an extensive data analysis of 7.8k pictures and over 2.8 million comments on Instagram. By identifying the scope and perpetrators of targeted online abuse, the session paves the way towards a broader discussion about the threats that social networking sites facilitate as well as the available remedies and advocacy efforts to mitigate these new threats.
Biography Simin Kargar is a human rights lawyer with a focus on the interrelations of technology and human rights. She is also affiliated with Harvard University's Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society where she studies harmful speech online, gender-based violence and technology, and the interplays of social media, power and propaganda. In addition, Simin investigates the formation of online movements and how discourses of geopolitical issues are created and disseminated through social media in Iran. Her current research addresses cyber abuse and online harassment against vulnerable communities who - due to their activities, beliefs or gender- are more likely to become targets of coordinated online mobs.