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A Feminist Theorisation of Cybersecurity to Identify and Tackle Online Extremism

A Feminist Theorisation of Cybersecurity to Identify and Tackle Online Extremism
25th May 2023 Elsa Bengtsson Meuller
In Report-Gnet

The Executive Summary is also available in French, German, Arabic, Indonesian and Japanese.

Online abuse and extremism disproportionately target marginalised populations, particularly people of colour, women and transgender and non‐binary people. The core argument of this report focuses on the intersecting failure of Preventing and Counter Violent Extremism (P/CVE) policies and cybersecurity policies to centre the experiences and needs of victims and survivors of online extremism and abuse. In failing to do so, technology companies and states also fail to combat extremism.

The practice of online abuse is gendered and racialised in its design and works to assert dominance through male supremacist logic. Online abuse is often used by extremist groups such as the far right, jihadist groups and misogynist incels. Yet online abuse is not seen as a ‘threat of value’ in cybersecurity policies. Additionally, the discipline of terrorism studies has failed to engage with the intersection of racism and misogyny properly. Consequently, we fail to centre marginalised victims in our responses to extremism and abuse.

Through the implementation of a feminist theorisation of cybersecurity to tackle extremism, this report proposes three core shifts in our responses to online extremism:

  1. Incorporate misogynist and racist online abuse into our conceptions of extremism.
  2. Shift the focus from responding to attacks and violence to addressing structural violence online.
  3. Empower and centre victims and survivors of online abuse
    and extremism.

The radical potential of this approach is that, while caring for victims, stakeholders also invest in developing responses that build stronger, supportive and educated counterforces to the abuse. When people receive help with the trauma experienced, individuals and communities are empowered to spot harms, help others and show a united front. Supportive and empowered communities help to ensure the upkeep of human rights. By bringing marginalised people’s experiences of violence into the centre of cybersecurity and P/CVE policies, we can impactfully redirect resources to create support mechanisms and initiatives that help victims of online violence and ultimately foster a community of care that challenges extremism and the structures of power that facilitate it. A feminist theorisation of cybersecurity can help us to tackle the roots of extremism.

Key findings:

  • Organisations currently fail to support the people who receive online abuse and violence. A victim‐centred approach to tackling online violence, including that of online abuse and online extremism, in both cybersecurity and P/CVE policies is needed to enforce real change.
  • Policymakers need to refocus and evaluate whether they put disproportionately more resources towards identifying perpetrators than helping victims and survivors of violence to work through their trauma.
  • A theorisation of feminist cybersecurity centred on victims of online abuse and extremism can help to tackle extremist violence and work to counter the structures of power from which extremism stems.
  • Misogynist and racist abuse online are both extreme and violent.
  • Current P/CVE and cybersecurity areas’ (including national policies) disengagement with gendered and racially oppressive structures means that strategies and activities that strive to counter extremisms are effectively built on male supremacist logic and consequently lack impactful intervention measures.

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