Existing laws enough to ensure cyber security for women

EditorialProthom Alo illustration

The women politicians were subjected to cyberattack the most on social media ahead of 12th parliamentary elections. This was found in a research conducted by Canada-based technological rights agency, Tech Global Institute. The research titled “From Hate Campaigns to Attacks: Gendered Portrayals of Political Disinformation in Bangladesh” was published on 11 June.

The research analysed the public posts of Facebook pages and groups from 1 December to 15 January and public reactions on those. The contents that emanated wrong or baseless or false or information or contents which alter truth were considered as disinformation.

The study analysed some 25,000 Facebook contents to find out how women were subjected to disinformation and fake propaganda ahead of the national elections, including misuse of intimate photos, doxing (using personal information of a person deliberately for heinous purposes), trolling and making deep-fake photos of a person without consent and sexual harassment.

The research shows that women politicians are being attacked more often than their male counterparts. There was no respite from this even for the prime minister, her family and the top opposition leader and her family.

Earlier in 2022, a study of ActionAid stated that 64 of every 100 women are being subjected to harassment and violence in one way or another. Criticising political rivals and spreading propaganda against them are not the same. Spreading propaganda and hatred are not acceptable at all regardless of the platform used for that.

Gender expert and Tech Global Institute’s chief of staff Fawzia Afrose said the conservative culture and social behaviours discourage women to be involved in politics here. However, such spread of propaganda cannot be explained only by the traditional attitudes. It is also an outcome of the sick mindset.

Bangladesh is seeing more women empowerment and the women literacy rate is rising in stark contrast to their participation in politics. The continuous attack on social media is a big reason behind this.

The research states the tendency to attack women on the internet peaked between February and August in 2023. Both the governing and the opposition parties were active at that time over the national elections. The research revealed that apart from being active on the streets, a section of them was busy spreading propaganda.

The policymakers in the government often raise their voice against spreading propaganda or disinformation on social media. However, they do not take any action against the people involved in such heinous acts.

The government claimed to have introduced the Digital Security Act in 2018 to prevent cybercrime. However, the law has been used mostly as a tool against the opposition parties and the journalists. Although the law was later rebranded in the face of countrywide massive protest due to its misuse and abuse, there has been no change.

We believe that there is no need for any new law to protect women’s dignity and rights. It is quite possible to ensure cybersecurity only by a proper implementation of the existing laws.