Deepfakes and Digital Harms: Emerging Technologies and Gender-Based Violence

Please note that this panel included frank discussion of a topic that is potentially sensitive for some.

Information on available Canadian support services, as well as a list of research and other content mentioned during the event, is available here as a downloadable PDF

The United Nations General Assembly has designated November 25th as the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women in an effort to raise public awareness of the issue and invite action globally to end violence against women and girls. In recognition of this day, Soroptimist International of Kitchener-Waterloo and the Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI) hosted CIGI Senior Fellow Suzie Dunn, PhD Candidate, Faculty of Law, University of Ottawa for a virtual discussion on a form of violence many experience and often don’t recognize on a daily basis: online gender-based violence (OGBV). In an era where technology is deeply integrated in all aspects of our lives, perpetrators of gender-based violence are using technology to abuse women and girls. As stopping the use of technology to avoid this abuse is not the solution, what can be done?

There is growing concern among anti-violence advocates about the increase of abuse online due to COVID-19 and how to deal with these new types of technology-facilitated harms. In many cases, it requires a new technological skill set to assess the risk of the situation. Many people don’t even know what stalkerware, sextortion, or deepfakes are, let alone how to support a person who has been impacted by them. People are also often unaware of their right to security, privacy and safety online. While legal responses have been slow to catch up with the fast pace of technology, there are a variety of resources, laws, and supports that can help women who have been targeted by this abuse.

CIGI has partnered with International Development Research Centre (IDRC) on the project “Supporting a Safer Internet: Global Survey of Gender-based Violence Online” which will conduct research on women and LGBTQ+ persons’ experiences online with specific focus in countries in the Global South. As part of this project, Suzie has written a new research paper Technology-facilitated Gender-based Violence and Abuse. During this virtual discussion, she will present key concepts from her paper including some of the more common forms of technology facilitated violence, discuss technologies that have been developed to specifically exploit women, and share some supports that exist for these women. This misuse of emerging technologies requires responses across multiple sectors: law enforcement, legislators, technologists, victim support workers, educators, and non-governmental organizations.

Following Suzie’s presentation, she was joined by Nicky Carswell, Dr. Courtney Doagoo, Dr. Sarah Shoker and Sarah Tatsis. Their discussion focused on the ways emerging technologies impact women and girls’ safety online and suggest solutions on how all levels of government and society can prevent these harms from continuing in both the short- and long-term future.

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