Behind the screens: Youth insights shaping approaches to technology-facilitated violence

Closed-captions are available.

Technology-facilitated violence encompasses a wide range of harms like obviously, online hate propagation, non-consensual disclosure of intimate images, the use of spyware and surveillance devices to control and monitor people’s behavior.  

My name is Jane Bailey. I’m a law professor at the University of Ottawa, Faculty of Law. I’m also the co-leader of the eQuality project. The project focuses on young people’s experiences in online environments.  

Our work focuses on equality seeking communities who are desperately negatively impacted by tech-facilitated violence. 

I came to study this topic because about 20 years ago I was a junior lawyer in the first internet hate speech case to be heard by the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal and I became interested, as a litigator, in many of the issues and found my research project. So, I went on to do my master’s degree and studied online hate propagation and how it might be regulated.  

Since then, I’ve looked at a number of issues of tech-facilitated violence, online child sexual exploitation and these other forms of image-based abuse. I’m also really interested in the role that corporations and governments play in structuring the online environment in a way that promotes and perpetuates online harms and many forms of tech-facilitated violence.  

The other thing we do is try to encourage policy makers to deal with and engage directly with young people. Young people have so much to teach us if we’re only willing to listen and so part of our goal is a hope for a more consultative policy process that itself integrates young people’s participation.  

We learned from girls and young women about their concerns and the impact that online harassment and the threat of judgment was having on them and their ability to function and to thrive. The other thing I think that they made very clear to us was their concern that so much of the focus was on telling them what they should do and what they shouldn’t do and they told us point blank, you know, give us a break, why aren’t policy makers concerned about what the corporations are doing in setting up an online environment that calls on us to deliver so much data about ourselves that in turn also exposes us to the risk of discrimination and harassment. Why aren’t we talking about what the adults are doing and what they should and shouldn’t be doing? 

 We also focus on thinking about out of the box ways of engaging young people so that they’re able to bring their experiences directly to the table in discussions with policy makers and so we had the privilege of running workshops where we invited young people to share their ideas and express their experiences and sense on these issues in an artistic way. So, it was very sort of, exciting opportunity to engage people in what some people I think are now referring to artivism to really express experiences ideas and concerns in more artistic forms that then allow other people to engage with the issues in a slightly different way.  

So, though the technology may change, many of the social issues that are arising still behoove us as adults to provide the support that’s necessary to create the environment in which all young people can thrive.  

The connectivity that typifies our digitally networked world brings with it widespread and persistent challenges. Particularly concerning is the prevalence of technology-facilitated violence, a multifaceted phenomenon that challenges conventional perceptions of violence and demands urgent attention.

Traditionally, definitions of violence emphasize physical acts of aggression perpetrated by individuals. However, digital networks facilitate harms that go well beyond the physical. Tech-facilitated stalking, hate propagation, harassment, non-consensual dissemination of intimate images, deepfakes and doxxing also lead to psychological, emotional, cultural, social, and financial harms. Technology companies play a critical role in facilitating these harms by, for example, pushing controversial content to the top of search results in a bid to maximize user engagement.

Professor Jane Bailey works at the forefront of research on tech-facilitated violence, with a specific focus on its disproportionately negative impacts on members of gender-marginalized and other equality-seeking communities and the role that technology corporations play in its perpetration. Together with Professor Valerie Steeves, she co-leads the eQuality Project, a research initiative focused on young people’s experiences in networked spaces, particularly with respect to privacy and equality. In this video, Professor Bailey explores the nature of tech-facilitated violence and explains how young people’s perspectives are key to finding meaningful, proactive ways to address its harms, and the underlying social and economic structures that incubate it.  

Headlines relating to the sometimes tragic consequences of tech-facilitated violence have contributed to growing collective awareness of this issue. But these tragic stories have also raised important questions about the applicability and efficacy of Canadian criminal law responses. While legislative measures have been introduced to address crimes such as non-consensual disclosure of intimate images, Professor Bailey’s research highlights the need to move beyond reactive individualized criminal responses toward comprehensive proactive regulatory, educational and social interventions. She works to advance our legal frameworks to ensure that those targeted by tech-facilitated violence receive adequate support and that those who seek to hold their perpetrators legally accountable are able to do so. Crucially, she also interrogates the roles that corporations and governments play in creating the kinds of online environments that perpetuate and promote different forms of online harm and abuse.

The eQuality Project is committed to supporting young people in articulating their own experiences, concerns and aspirations whether in schools, social settings or policymaking processes. By amplifying the voices of young people and fostering dialogue with partner organizations and policymakers, Professor Bailey and The eQuality Project hope to build a legacy of empowerment and advocacy. Through their collaborative efforts and creative approaches to knowledge-sharing, new perspectives are made available to policymakers with the ultimate goal of improving policies and practices and advancing a just social, legal and technological world that prioritizes rights over profits.

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