By : Basel Khaled – Mohamed Shawky
The American University in Cairo (AUC) held yesterday the fourth session of the AUC SpeakUp Dialog Series, titled: "How to Stay Safe in Cyberspace? Is "Private" really "Private?" Speakers were Sylvia Musalagani, safety policy manager, Middle East and Africa, Facebook; Hani Mohamed Kamel, content operation director, North Africa, TikTok; Dina El Serafy, national cooperation specialist, National Council for Women (NCW) and Ahmed Khater, computer engineering senior and president of Computer Science and Engineering Association, AUC. Khaled Ezzelarab, associate professor of journalism, AUC, and former senior news editor at SkyNews Arabia, moderated the event.
In his welcoming remarks, AUC President Francis Ricciardone discussed the SpeakUp Initiative’s role, which was launched last November, to raise awareness of sexual harassment first on campus and then off-campus through the Dialog Series. “SpeakUp started as an internal community initiative that aims to create a culture of anti-harassment and non-discrimination that includes all the infrastructure like a zero-tolerance policy for sexual harassment and a dedicated office, the Office of Institutional Equity, to help enforce and uphold this policy.
Dina El Serafy, national cooperation specialist, National Council for Women, identified online violence against women as any act resulting in psychological, physical, sexual, or economic harm or suffering. “It is manifested online in harassment, bullying, stalking, revenge, defamation, and hacking another person's account.
Violence in real life happens online, and forms of online violence through social media platforms can sometimes result in offline violence, like stalking and at times rape."
On TikTok, Hany Kamel, North Africa content operation director, said that the platform had detected an increase in the number of reports of fabricated videos, which happens when a user creates a video using another’s pictures without his/her consent.
"We reviewed the general content and assigned four teams to review the videos. The review process starts with artificial intelligence and ends with local teams specialized in the users' country's language and culture."
Sylvia Musalagani, safety policy manager, Middle East and Africa, Facebook, said that sexual harassment mainly affects women and other vulnerable and minority groups. She said that statistics show that globally more than 70 % of women, in comparison to men, are targeted with harassment.
Musalagani shared research results that showed a substantial reason women don't use online platforms is to avoid online harassment. She also said that harassment and online violence are not recent, but they made their way online because it is easier to reach more people online.
Khater, AUC computer engineering senior, pointed out one of the main problems facing many first-time users of social media platforms. "We find that all social media platforms settings are pre-set to the minimum degree of privacy, putting many at risk. Without proper awareness, users don't realize the dangers of sharing their information and photos."
El Serafy explained that "it is essential for people to know that there are laws and a legislative environment in place to protect women, where the penalty for harassment is five years or a fine of 50,000 pounds. The law clearly defines the meaning of harassment and information technology crimes. And we must continue to raise women's awareness of the existing law, the current protection of the victims’ confidentiality and their right to report.” El Serafy also said that the NCW has a branch in every governorate. Its Women's Complaints Office receives complaints of violence against women and provides legal and social advice through the hotline 15115, or email, or by visiting the council's branch.
Discussing TikTok's effort to provide a safe online environment, Kamel said that the full TikTok experience is intended for users aged 13 and above. "We monitor the accounts that children create under 13, and we take appropriate action. We also use "family pairing" to help parents and guardians keep their teens safe and protect them from exploitation. And for those between 13-15 years old, they can communicate only with those in their small circle of friends to protect them from bullying and harassment."
To combat online violence, Musalajani said, that if users violate the policies of the platform, they are prevented from using it. “We have a zero-tolerance approach to sharing non-consensual intimate images, a high-priority offense, we take extreme measures and ban the person from using all our platforms. We also use technology to prevent these images from being shared, and in some cases, we work collaboratively with local law enforcement to investigate such cases.”
Khater highlighted the need to continue raising awareness of online privacy issues, the importance of reporting, seeking help and breaking the silence if subjected to online harassment or violence.