"Being a woman on the internet is an inherently dangerous act". Under this motto, a disinformation expert has published a manual to prevent digital gender violence from silencing voices "necessary"while some on the US right are trying to stifle theirs.

In September 2020, when Nina Jankowicz posted a video debunking a US election conspiracy theory, she was harassed by trolls for two weeks. The experience "opened his eyes" to a clear reality: the attacks were "fully linked" to your gender.

"They would do things like send me pictures of empty egg cartons to hint that I should start conceiving babies, because my fertility was going down, being in my thirties"Jankowicz recalled in an interview with Efe.

A smear campaign

Nearly two years after that incident, and just after publishing his new book on the subject, "How to be a woman online" ("How to be a woman on the internet"), Jankowicz has become the target of a strong smear campaign launched by right-wing media figures.

The reason is not his book, but his appointment to lead a new advisory board that helps the US Department of Homeland Security. to combat disinformationparticularly that related to Russia, electoral processes or irregular migration.

Commentators on the Fox News network and Republican congressmen shouted to the heavens when they learned of the creation of that board, which is a mere working group without binding authority, and they were particularly vicious with Jankowicz.

The campaign reached such a point that both the White House and the Secretary of National Security, Alejandro Mayorkas, had to come out to defend Jankowicz, whose critics delved into her social networks and took tweets out of context to accuse her of being partisan.

The expert spoke with Efe before the controversy began and did not want to comment on it when contacted again later, but during the interview she did reflect on the type of criticism he has received for speaking or researching disinformation, democracy and digital culture.

"They often tell me that I am disinformation or that I am the ‘Deep State’, and are tempted to undermine my credibility"said Jankowicz, who until March worked at the Wilson Center think tank and years ago was a communication adviser to the Ukrainian government.

Expose the trolls

the researcher is a big advocate of blocking and reporting trolls, but in general, he does not recommend the strategy of ignoring them or leaving social networks as a response to an outbreak of digital violence.

"I don’t think we have the luxury of ignoring it, unplugging or not feeding the trolls (…) Social media is so intertwined with our daily lives that it’s ridiculous to ask a woman to unplug because some men can’t control themselves"Jankowicz opined.

In his new book, just published in the United States and available worldwide in English, Jankowicz shares his tactics for combating bullyingsuch as taking screenshots of the message, deleting the author’s name and posting it on social networks.

"This denies my abusers the influence and notoriety they desire, exposes how unacceptable their behavior is, and stops the cycle of hate that often explodes online."writes the researcher, who also advises keeping these captures in case it is necessary to take legal action.

His manual also contains recommendations to reinforce privacy and react when digital abuse happens in real life, something that worries him: "Since I finished writing the book, I have carried a personal security alarm with me."assured Efe.

"A Band-Aid on a Huge Wound" 

In United States, one in three women under the age of 35 has experienced sexual harassment online, and globally, digital gender violence affects 85% of the female population, according to data from the White House.

However, Jankowicz has run into people who "question the premise" of her book and would like to see more research on digital harassment against women, which often involves "much more violent threats" than in the case of men.

"The fact that anyone doubts that women face terrible digital abuse andIt’s one more example of the endemic misogyny that exists", opined.

He also acknowledged that his manual is "how to put a band-aid on a huge wound"a patch "insufficient" as long as governments and internet platforms do not take the problem more seriously.

Jankowicz has seen "some positive steps by Twitter"but ask "more transparency in algorithms" to understand "how they perpetuate cycles of abuse" by giving more visibility to the most scandalous content, which "they are often the ones that generate the most interaction".

The expert has also not hidden her concern about the attempt to buy Twitter from billionaire Elon Musk, whom she describes as "a free speech absolutist".

"If there are no limits to freedom of expression, abusers will be able to silence the most vulnerable people, because they will be able to carry out their abuse without controls or restraint. And the goal of that abuse is to silence people"Jankowicz warned.


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