How Not to Write a Cyber Safety e-Book

Jayne Cravens
Posted March 18, 2021 from United States

In the article Cyber Safe Girl: How Not to Write a Cyber Safety e-Book, R Vaishno Bharati critiques a cyber safety e-booklet titled Cyber Safe Girl – Beti Bachao, Cyber Crime Se 3.0 that was written by a well-meaning cyber security expert and professor at the Sahyadri College of Engineering and Management and credits numerous IPS (Indian Police Service) and KSPS (Karnataka State Police Service) officers for their inputs. The author notes that the e-booklet:

uses the reductive albeit common patriarchal trope of framing women’s safety in terms of their relationships within the family, their identities constructed and understood in relation to the people around them. Furthermore, its messaging seems to be directed as much at family members — parents or guardians — who are purportedly responsible for the protection of their daughters, as women themselves. This is particularly notable given that the book credits a group of predominantly male police officers, thus foregrounding a male perspective on women’s safety while largely ignoring women’s voices and their lived experiences. In addition, the title of the book patronizingly uses the term ‘girl’ despite featuring sketches that include women of all ages. In fact, it does not address cyber safety issues experienced by children at all.

another comment from the author of this critique:

Many of the incidents mentioned in the book are not specific to women, and yet, the book seems to suggest that women need to take additional precautions to make themselves safe when accessing online spaces. This is not to say that women do not experience cybercrimes or a disproportionately more hostile online space on account of their gender and other intersecting social identities. However, some of the solutions offered by the book — such as installing and updating anti-virus software, creating strong passwords, and being wary of phishing emails and messages — are practices that all internet users need to be aware of, regardless of their gender identity.

and

The book presents steps and measures that women can take in order to avoid being in situations that lead to gender-based violence, harassment, trolling etc. The sketches warn women of the dangers of cyberspace, making the predominant tone of the book not one of empowerment but of fear and danger. It equates safety with caution — women will be safe if they do not put themselves in unsafe situations — and places the onus of safety, through self-policing, on women themselves. By calling people to action with its subtitle of ‘save the daughter’, the safety manual enlists families into this act of policing, thus adapting the patriarchal control and surveillance of women’s bodies in offline spaces for the digital age.

And one more excerpt:

the book’s narrative of fear and danger can significantly discourage women from using the internet, especially those who are new users of information and communication technologies (ICTs). In a country like India, where girls and women often find their access to digital spaces already restricted, the narrative of fear would spread faster than the access to technology.

Seems like quite a miss opportunity. 

The critique was published online from Bot Populi.

I have been participating in online communities since the 1990s. I was not targeted with online harassment until just a few years ago. I hesitate to share these stories because I'm afraid of scaring women away from participating online. We need MORE women online. We need MORE women taking up space, online and onsite. 

Comments 8

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Tamarack Verrall
Mar 18
Mar 18

Hi Jayne,
I am so glad to see this online violence being spoken about, and your calling out the responses that put the responsibility on women/girls/families to limit access online, instead of the opposite approach: get all this danger and violence off the internet. I am sorry to read that you have been targeted. We have been calling for an end to this violence for a long time now. Why there is more than ever, and why it is allowed to dominate online, is a huge question these days.

Jayne Cravens
Mar 22
Mar 22

"Why there is more than ever, and why it is allowed to dominate online, is a huge question these days."

It is strange and disturbing just how quickly harassment, whether by one person or by a troll "army", can materialize. And just how often it targets a woman, specifically!

Nini Mappo
Mar 21
Mar 21

Hello Jayne,
Thank you for highlighting the skewed view of online safety and women, and for encouraging women to engage in online communities in spite of the threat of harassments or abuse. It is encouraging to see that your being targeted has not deterred your resolution to belong and participate in online spaces. Good on you, and stay safe out there.

Jayne Cravens
Mar 22
Mar 22

"It is encouraging to see that your being targeted has not deterred your resolution to belong and participate in online spaces."

It's hard - not going to sugar coat it and pretend I'm 100% brave and persistent. But I just don't want "them" to "win."

Hi Jayne, what a profound post, and thank you for sharing this with us. I am so sorry you have experienced violence, and I am also grateful for you sharing this truth with us. Thank you for putting out there this critique which deeply resonates for me, and I am sure for many women who deeply need to feel safe to share their stories online. What I really love is what I feel is a calling in your story for us to look at safety online from a place of love and abundance rather than fear and scarcity which will keep us small. I think you give us profound opportunity for reflection on how we can create more safety out there for all women to thrive and share their stories, while acknowledging that there are risks. Questions I am reflecting on from your share include: how can we acknowledge that there are risks for women in sharing (both psychological and in terms of cyber-harassment), while also creating more safety so that more women feel safe to share? How can we come together to call out all forms of cyber-harassment while also not over-focusing on this from a place of fear? How do we put the onus where it belongs for cyber-safety, away from blaming women themselves but to changing the online culture (and tolerated online misogyny)? I know that together, as a collective we can create more and more safety online, and your share is part of this movement, thank you!
Cheers from Montreal,
Adriana

Jayne Cravens
Mar 22
Mar 22

all of your questions! I have the same!

charlenegailtaruwona

Dear Jayne,
Thank you for the story. I also have experienced online harassed especially in my email box. However i have not let this pull me down. I continue making my voice heard. Yes, we need more women online.