Hashtag Generation and Delete Nothing have launched “Prathya”, an ecosystem of trilingual support services for women, girls, and trans and queer people affected by online violence in Sri Lanka, building on the work Hashtag Generation and Delete Nothing have been doing on this issue over the last few years. This ecosystem is composed of:
Global trends showcase that as more women, girls and queer and trans people access the internet, the level of violence directed at them online also increases in proportion (Association for Progressive Communications, 2018). This violence most often takes the form of abusive comments, unwanted sexually explicit or demeaning images, and sextortion (‘blackmail’ via the threat of sharing intimate content). Members of the LGBTQIA+ community also run the risk of experiencing homophobic and transphobic abuse, and may choose to mitigate this by limiting their activity online (Deshapriya et al, 2017; Ghosha, Groundviews & Hashtag Generation, 2019).
People thus affected by online violence often do not receive adequate support from the legal and social systems that should in theory provide them with relief. “Filing a police complaint can be a retraumatising experience for many,” explained Social Media Specialist at Hashtag Generation Saritha Irugalbandara. “Police officers and even some lawyers, unfortunately, are reportedly dismissive and insensitive to the plight of those affected. It does not help that local police are woefully inexperienced with addressing cases of online violence, often without knowledge of existing laws, creating a bottleneck at the Cyber Crimes Unit.”
Prihesh Rathnayake, Head of Social Media Analysis at Hashtag Generation added that social media companies also prove to be arbitrary in how they deal with online violence. “The in-built mechanisms such as community guidelines and supposed moderation processes should, in theory, protect people from gendered harm. This is generally not the case, and affected people have little recourse beyond reporting to a platform which insists that the harmful content doesn’t go against their guidelines,” he said.
Apart from these systemic barriers, people affected by online violence who come forward about their experiences risk social shaming and victim-blaming from institutions, communities, and family members. Fear of negative social, emotional, and/or physical consequences can have a chilling effect and deter them from taking further action (Perera & Ibrahim, 2021).
Even when individuals are willing to take action, there are limited options available to them, especially if they do not wish to involve the police or the legal system for whatever reasons. “As we reached out to communities, a concern that kept coming up, especially from the LGBTIQ+ community, was that filing a police complaint could end up further criminalising them rather than giving them redress,” said Sachini Perera, one of the co-creators of Delete Nothing. She went on to say that often the first thing people want is for someone to listen to what they are going through and accompany them, and that is what “Prathya” aims to be first and foremost.
“Prathya” sets out to provide a safe space where people who are experiencing online violence will be provided with support that centers their needs and desires, built on an ethic of care and community. The “Prathya” ecosystem of support is underpinned by human rights and the Feminist Principles of The Internet, which emphasise the right of women, girls, and LGBTQIA+ persons to universal and equal access to the internet, for the purposes of information, movement-building, creative expression, pleasure and play, while retaining their rights to consent, privacy, agency, anonymity, and freedom from violence.
“Prathya” was formally launched on Monday, 28 November 2022 at Lavender Hall, BMICH Colombo, with the participation of various stakeholders engaged in addressing online violence in Sri Lanka, as well as members of the press.
“Prathya” is primarily supported by the Australian High Commission to Sri Lanka and Maldives through a Direct Aid Program (DAP) grant. DAP grants provide a link between the Australian High Commission in Sri Lanka and Maldives and the local communities, and are aligned to the priorities of the Australian Government’s development policy Partnerships For Recovery: Australia’s COVID-19 Development Response.
Hashtag Generation is a movement led and run by a group of young tech-savvy, socially conscious Sri Lankans advocating for the meaningful civic and political participation of youth.
Delete Nothing aims to document technology-related gender-based violence in Sri Lanka, particularly but not limited to the experiences of girls, women, and queer and trans people in Sri Lanka. We also provide information to support those who experience it.