By Seyi Akiwowo
My name is Seyi, I’m an activist against racism, sexism, online abuse and a campaigner for youth rights. I’m also the youngest black female councillor ever elected to represent my community, Newham in East London. Earlier this year I received a wave of hateful online abuse and harassment after a video of me speaking at the European Parliament went viral.
I was caught up in a storm of abusive comments and mob-style harassment on two social media platforms. I was called several variations of the N word, they referred to me as a: “Monkey”, “Ape” and “Harambe’s cousin”. They told me to: “eat s***”, “All Africans live in Mudhuts”, “f*** off back to Africa and die there you useless parasite” and… “Lol kill yourself” They also asked me : “Which STD will end your miserable life?” and “what a giant gas chamber! When will it be commissioned?” They hoped for:“the next Ebola outbreak”, that I “ get lynched you stupid nog” and that “if all whites agreed that the best course of action would be to exterminate blacks, we could do it in a week.”
On one hand the online world is merely a reflection of the state of our society on the other hand the online world seems to be a comfortable place for those that know they cannot behavior is such a way to hide online. My experience is sadly not uncommon and is an indication of how far society has to go to achieve true equality.
That’s why I founded Glitch! UK, an organisation aiming to end online hate speech and online violence against women and girls (OVAWG). Through Glitch!UK, we directly or with partners lobby social media companies to do more to stop online abuse. We have developed a set of recommendations on how they can adequately and consistently address OVAWG and online hate speech. We have also developed and deliver personalised, interactive and informative training workshops on OVAWG and online hate speech for young people and in 2018 will be training online tech companies too.
The impact of online abuse is real and has an impact on all of us. Online abuse can have a serious psychological impact with users reporting stress, anxiety or panic attacks as well as lower self-esteem as a result of the abuse.
When it comes to hate speech we must acknowledge that language matters, words are powerful and hateful words can be used to mobilise against a group of people. Therefore, we must challenge the rhetoric of “oh it’s just words, ignore them” to “No words do have an impact and negative online activity can and does extend into real world.”
Social media companies must be held more accountable and be transparent with how they self-regulate and enforce their own rules.
We need educational training workshops – like those delivered by The Anne Frank Trust UK – for young people so they can understand what online abuse means, it’s impact and how they can be better online citizens. Training workshops for those that work with and look after young people is also required to help them spot the signs rather than just banning website and phones in schools. Instead teachers, parents, carers and those that work with young people need support in order to provide young people with the tools to be able to help young people be better online citizens.
Finally, but by no means least, we must train online tech companies and those developing new apps and social media platforms. They must learn from the mistakes and glitches of current social media platforms. There are current attempts to fix the online abuse glitch within these sites and apps but moving forward we should have new apps and new social media platforms that don’t have these glitches in the first place.
About the Guest Editor
Seyi Akiwowo is an activist against racism and sexism, and a campaigner for youth rights. She is also the youngest black female councillor ever elected to represent her community in Newham, East London. Seyi is also the founder of Glitch! UK, an organisation aiming to end online hate speech and online violence against women and girls (OVAWG).