Featured Storyteller

INDIA: Let’s Make the Internet Safer for Women

Aparna Gopan
Posted April 21, 2021 from India

Journalist and nonprofit founder Aparna Gopan survived cyberbullying. Now she’s leading campaigns to protect other gender minorities from online abuse.

“As we talk about the numerous ways to improve technology for women’s empowerment, let’s also discuss empowering technology to create safer spaces for women.

I am the founder of the Black and Blue Eye Project against cyberbullying, and I am a survivor of online abuse. Most women I know have experienced bullying online, yet because it doesn’t leave visible scars, people seem to be indifferent toward this crime. Where is the outrage against this mentality that it’s okay to cyberbully a gender minority into submission?

Gendered cyberbullying is more than just trolling. It is abuse. The number of people who systematically attack women and gender minorities is far too many to report. According to data by the National Crime Records Bureau, cases of cyberstalking or bullying of women or children in India increased by 36 percent between 2017 and 2018. Meanwhile, the conviction rate for cyberstalking or bullying of women and children fell from 40 percent to 25 percent during that period.

Every time a woman or a gender minority posts something that fires up debate, you can see how the comments quickly become sexist and threatening. Cyberbullies will often get into detailed character assassination, sometimes graphically describing how they would like to harass the woman. We continually fail new generations when we tolerate this behavior and disregard the humanity of the people behind the screen.

While the U.S. and Australia previously topped the list of countries with the highest number of cyberbullying cases, India has been a front-runner since 2018. This led me to act. I started by conducting sessions about gendered cyber abuse in colleges and schools in Kerala. Then, while researching new case studies, I read about Angelina Green, a 14-year-old American girl who died by suicide due to harassment and online bullying. Her story haunted me, especially the gruesome detail that she chose to hang herself from a tree next to her school bus stop so that her bullies would see her lifeless body.

That’s when I started The Black and Blue Eye Project, a campaign that partners with internet giants and policymakers to prevent cybercrime in public spaces. We work to illustrate the hidden bruises and consequences of cyberbullying. We are devising better ways of reporting cyber abuse and implementing preventive measures like enabling toggles to identify abusive words or phrases with our partners. We are also working with government organizations to discuss cyberbullying as a part of the school curriculum.

As the first campaign action, we organized an exhibition against online bullying in Trivandrum. The show featured screenshots of gendered cyber abuse and paintings of women, children, and gender minorities with black and blue eyes. These images highlight that every rape threat and insensitive comment leaves a lasting scar on the survivor.

We also detailed five cases of teenage suicide that resulted from online bullying, asking exhibit visitors to pledge they would act to stop this crime. Parents and educators praised the campaign, with detailed news reports on major media outlets. This gave us more visibility, but also backlash.

Still, we kept devising new ways to amplify our impact. We got parents to attend sessions where we suggested measures to prevent their children from becoming bullies. We introduced apps like ReThink, which acts as a Google keypad and sends out a prompt to detect insensitive words or phrases.

Our next step with The Black and Blue Eye Project is to reach more cities. We’d like to expand to 10 educational institutions per city, maximizing our impact by offering a free exhibition like the one in Trivandrum. We’re also developing an app that records the number of verified reports against social media accounts. This will help create safer spaces and deter cyberbullies at an early age.

Cyberbullying can target anyone. Our project itself dealt with a lot of criticism for taking action against online bullying. At one point, we had our venue partners and sponsors back out because of our posters, which featured real-life screenshots of cyber abuse.

Some people thought what we are doing is an infringement of the abuser’s free speech. But those who argue fail to recognize that these public threats and comments contribute to the indifferent tolerance of gendered violence. Cyber abuse spreads a toxic mentality, leading to harassment, rape, and acid attacks.

As we talk about the numerous ways to improve technology for women’s empowerment, let’s also discuss empowering technology to create safer spaces for women online and otherwise.


SheTransformsTech

This story was published as part of World Pulse's SheTransformsTech Campaign and is included in the #SheTransformsTech final report. Download the report to find out what grassroots women and gender-diverse individuals from 60+ countries say individuals, policymakers, and tech companies must do to make tech equitable for all.

Comments 25

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Beth Lacey
Apr 21
Apr 21

You are so right. Although it is great to make the internet more accessible for everyone, if the rate of abuse increases, then we are losing ground. Good luck with Black and Blue!

Aparna Gopan
Apr 23
Apr 23

Thanks a ton, Beth.

I hope we get the world or at least parts of it, to acknowledge this dire issue, at the least.

Nini Mappo
Apr 22
Apr 22

Congratulations Aparna for getting featured, and for the creativity and resolve to tackle the bull of cyber-bullying by the horns. All the best in this life-giving initiative.

Aparna Gopan
Apr 23
Apr 23

Thank You, Nini. It's pretty amazing to hear these words. Warms my heart.

Shofali Agarwal
Apr 22
Apr 22

You are amazing for seeing a serious problem affecting the world and doing something impactful to change this behaviour. You are saving lives!

Aparna Gopan
Apr 23
Apr 23

Thank You, Shofali. Your words of encouragement is a pleasant something to wake up to.

Jill Langhus
Apr 23
Apr 23

Great job, Aparna! Congrats on your initiative and for being a Featured Storyteller, too:-)

Susu Mohamed
Apr 25
Apr 25

Hi aparna,
How are you doing.
Congratulations on storytelling. Thank you for your work on your community.
Best regards,
Suu

srivarsha.gorge
Apr 27
Apr 27

This is incredible work Aparna. Cyber bullying is very harmful than it seems, scarring one's dignity and peace of mind.
Good luck with everything that you do, Black and Blue Eye project!

Luana Gimenez
Apr 28
Apr 28

Congratulations on your story Aparna, the subject of it is urgent and so important!

LSpeaksLife
Apr 28
Apr 28

Aparna, my heart sank when you described what happened to Angelina Green. Thank you for driving cybersafety across the globe.
May you continue to have the strength, courage, and provision to continue the work.

mjuricic
Apr 28
Apr 28

Thank you for sharing this life testimony, it demonstrates how brave and strong you are, congratulations and much success on this journey.

hcampuzano
Apr 29
Apr 29

great initiative and contribution

MMLong
Apr 29
Apr 29

I love the work that you are doing! I also really love the name - that is so fitting for the impact of cyberbullying. As this becomes a bigger problem everyday, I respect and support your work. Women, particularly young women, should know that they don't have to suffer in silence from cyber stalking and attacks. Thank you for sharing, and keep up the great initiative.

itsjessde
Apr 29
Apr 29

Thank you for bubbling up such an important topic that needs to be addressed!

E Barker
Apr 29
Apr 29

Love this story, real solutions for the problems of today. Aparna you should be very proud of your achievements!

Tamarack Verrall
Apr 30
Apr 30

Dear Arpana,
What tremendous work you have generated. By describing it so fully here you have given us all a blueprint of how to build similar movements in our own countries. There have been teenage girls in my country who have also killed themselves because of having been raped and having had those rapes filmed and put online. It speaks volumes that our governments allow online bullying and violence toward girls, women and gender minorities. You ask important questions" Why is it that bullying is increasing while convictions decrease; why women are silenced violently for expressing any ideas that support women becoming strong, the importance of having our ideas take hold through sharing openly online...highlighting the screenshots;
It is a gift to us all that you have described how you have built the movement, and apps like ReThink.
Very best sisterhood wishes as you take this to new communities. What a champion you are!

Mariaolsen49
Apr 30
Apr 30

I agree, wholeheartedly!

Emilywc
Apr 30
Apr 30

Technology has creates so many opportunities good and bad, it's so important to evolve our thinking on how we protect everyone from the new crime which it creates - or even old crimes perpetrated in this new medium. Thank you for the work you do and fo sharing this with us.

Vasanth Ayothiraman
Apr 30
Apr 30

Great work Aparna on this largely unknown area.
Please continue the amazing work thru "The Black and Blue Eye Project".
Support you on this point, let’s also discuss empowering technology to create safer spaces for women online and otherwise.

noemi.hdz.gro
Apr 30
Apr 30

Congratulations, this is a Serious Problem and you are doing something that everyone has to do! Thanks for sharing!

jpalapuz
Apr 30
Apr 30

Thank you for sharing your story, Aparna! Thank you for sharing your strength

Fabiola Lisiero
Apr 30
Apr 30

Thank you for bringing the topic. We have to really inform and support young people because cyberbullying can have serious consequences for the victims.

karina lima
May 01
May 01

What an interesting story! Thanks for sharing ❣️

Nari
May 01
May 01

Thank you for sharing your story, it was truly inspiring.