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NORDREF Annual Report 2022

An overview of 2022: NORDREF kicks off!

After spending the year of 2021 on acquiring and establishing everything that an operational organisation requires, including registration with relevant authorities and funding, the year 2022 was a year of harvest for the founders of the Nordic Digital Rights and Equality Foundation (NORDREF), when we could finally start to materialize our vision of elevating the field of digital rights in the Nordic region. Areas of special interest were:

  • Digitally facilitated violence

  • Nordic values of transparency, trust, openness, gender-equality, democracy

  • Gender-based online abuse as a part of men’s violence against women and girls

These focal points came together in NORDREF‘s first event, our Nordic Talk[1] which marked our primordial step into the limelight. After careful consideration, we chose to center our talk around how sexual privacy violations on the internet – which overwhelmingly target women and girls – risk undermining principal values like democracy and gender-equality in the Nordic region and beyond.

NORDREF‘s Nordic Talk in Reykjavík

NORDREF‘s Nordic Talk, titledWhen Sexual Privacy Meets Gender Equality in a Digital World, was hosted in the City Theatre of Reykjavík on Friday January 21st, 2022. It was still uncertain less than two weeks prior to the event whether it would even take place, as the Omicron variant of COVID19 was wreaking havoc on Europe and infection rates skyrocketed. For this reason, two of our six speakers were unable to travel to Iceland and partake in the event in person, participating via video link instead. Moreover, restrictions and rules were announced on a weekly basis, making it impossible to know with more than seven days’ notice if an audience would be allowed in the auditorium. As a result, spending money on advertisements to attract a live audience, that might not be allowed to attend the event, seemed like a futile investment.

Therefore, we adapted our PR strategy and focused solely on attracting an online audience. Our efforts paid off when the audience number exceeded our expectations, as approximately 1600 people viewed the live stream. The registered online attendees were a diverse group of people from all over the world, for example from NGOs like Amnesty and Save the Children, the INHOPE and INSAFE networks, institutions like police and government ministries, city councils, women's shelters, as well as people from the realm of academia, activism and research across the Nordic region and beyond, to Brazil, USA and Australia, to name a few. The audience was curious, asked great questions in the live chat

and offered good feedback. Due to Covid restrictions an audience was not allowed in the auditorium, but an exception was made for one person: The First Lady of Iceland. She was the in-person audience of one - and what a great one!

(Pictured above: Speakers and organisers rejoice over lunch with the First Lady of Iceland and the Minister of Industry, Innovation and Higher education.)

(Pictured left: Áslaug Arna Sigurbjörnsdóttir delivering the closing speech.)

The Minister of Industry, Innovation and Higher Education, Áslaug Arna Sigurbjörnsdóttir, was theevent‘s closing speaker. She spoke about the importance of violence prevention, institutional cooperation and general awareness about sexual privacy and gender-equality as fundamental rights worth protecting, echoing the words of the speakers Cindy Southworth (Head of Women's Safety for Meta) María Rún Bjarnadóttir (Head of Internet Safety in Iceland), Daniel Godman, (Head of Crimes against Democracy in Sweden), Asha Allen (Advocacy Director for Europe at the CDT) and Sophie Mortimer, (manager of the Revenge Porn Helpline of the UK) and Christian Mogensen (NORDREF Board member and author of the explosive Angry Internet report).

(Pictured: A screen capture from Ragga Rix‘s prized rap performance „Mætt til leiks“)

The glitter department was catered to by award-winning rapper Ragga Rix, a 13 year old Icelandic girl that despite her tender age rapped fervently about how sick and tired she is of receiving dickpics – which was one of the sexual privacy violations at the heart of the event‘s discussion. She represented the children and youth who bear the brunt of sexual privacy violations online, and added an artistic element to our Nordic Talk.

To keep our carbon footprint at a minimum, no plastic bottles were involved in our event. The water came straight from the tap, the coffee was home brewed and all refreshments were served using reusable glasses, cups, plates and cutlery that was simply washed afterwards. The lunch - which the First Lady and the Minister of Innovation enjoyed with the organisers and speakers - consisted of a vegan smorgasbord. The speakers who traveled to Iceland had their trips carbon-neutralized.

For NORDREF, the takeaway lesson from our Nordic Talk is that hosting an ambitious, standalone event with high-level participants in a prestigious locale during a global pandemic, riddled with uncertainty and impossible obstacles, is not for the faint of heart. If an event like this can be pulled off under these circumstances, surely hosting an event at any other point in time is quite manageable.

In July 2022, the Nordic Talks podcast series aired an episode based solely on recordings from our Reykjavík event, called Undoing the Digital Abuse of Women, which can be listened to here.

NORDREF‘s Nordic Talk was professionally recorded and produced, and as a result, When Sexual Privacy Meets Gender Equality in a Digital World can be viewed by clicking here.

NORDREF‘s International Research

Few studies have been conducted in the Nordic region when it comes to digital violence and online abuse, the results of which indicate that men are overrepresented among perpetrators, and that hate speech is largely perpetrated by men over the age of 40, while sexual privacy violations are generally carried out by younger men. There is still a lot to learn about perpetrators, what their motives are and what their relationship to their victims is. Establishing that lays the foundation for evidence-based proposals with the aim of countering and ultimately preventing online abuse, which in turn strengthens democracy and gender-equality.

As a result, NORDREF is conducting our first research with the aim of profiling perpetrators of online abuse in Denmark, Sweden and Iceland, in collaboration with ROKS, Kvennaathvarfið shelter, Stígamót counseling center, Bjarkarhlíð family justice center, Danske Kvindesamfunds krisecentre, police authorities and courts in all three countries. The data collection began in January 2022 and extends to January 2023. Of special interest are image-based violations (i.e. 'revenge porn' and 'dickpicks') as well as unlawful threats and other insults (including gendered slurs). The perpetrators willbe mapped based on age, gender, relationship to victim and motive. We will do this in three different sub-studies, one of which consists of a questionnaire that the participating women’s shelters encourage victims to fill out. Research conclusions will also be based on statistical data about crimes reported to the police, as well as court verdicts. In the long run, the project aims to contribute to preventative measures and and the innovation of more efficient ways to counter digital violations and online abuse of women and girls.

The project is funded by NIKK (Nordic Gender Equality Fund) during the period 2021-2023. The three research leaders, who are also current or former Board members of NORDREF, are nationally and internationally established in their respective disciplines and experienced both in the field of research and regarding the selected methods: Doctor of Law Moa Bladini, Department of Law, University of Gothenburg, Doctor of Law María Run Bjarnardottir, University of Akureyri, Iceland and Christian Mogensen, Center for Digital Pedagogy, Denmark. The project manager is Thordis Elva, NORDREF founder and COO. The results of the study will be presented in a conference in June 2023 in Göteborgs university and published in the form of at least one research report and possibly peer-reveiwed articles.

A visit by the Nordic Council in June

The members of the Welfare Committee of the Nordic Council visited Reykjavík in June 2022. During their visit, they kindly requested a 2-hour workshop by NORDREF on online abuse and digital rights. In the beautifully renovated building of St. Joseph‘s Hospital, now host to the Quality of Life Centre (Lífsgæðasetrið), Thordis Elva and María Rún presented the committee with the current state of affairs regarding digital rights and online abuse in the Nordic region, as well as a run-through of the new Icelandic legislation on sexual privacy. The committee was eager to learn, and some members have been in touch since, wanting to know more about how they can be instrumental in countering digital violence and creating a safer online environment.

Other noteworthy events

NORDREF‘s presence was requested at various noteworthy events in 2022, such as the Reykjavík Feminist Film Festival delivering a keynote on gender-inequality on the internet, in May.

In October, the European Institute for Gender Equality (EIGE) invited Thordis Elva to speak in the Countering Cyber Violence Against Women and Girls session of the Gender Equality Forum in Brussels, Belgium.

Changes on the Board

NORDREF welcomed our second Finnish representative onto the Board, Johanna Vehkoo, in August. Johanna is an award-winning journalist and non-fiction author who specialises in all kinds of misinformation and fakery on the Internet. Currently she is working as Professor of Practice in Journalism at the University of Tampere, Finland. Johanna has written five books, one of them a journalistic graphic novel about online misogyny, and another recounting the absurd and kafkaesque story of being indicted for defaming a well-known far-right provocateur. She has spoken and written extensively about digital violence in Finland. She is the recipient of three different freedom of speech awards. She is a founder of an online publisher of investigative journalism, Long Play. Last but not least, Johanna has completed fellowships at the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, Oxford University, and at the Wilson Center in Washington, D.C.

Kristina Wicksell was nominated to the NORDREF board in 2022, joining the organisation during her parental leave. She is a Swedish communicator and change-maker on issues related to equality, democracy, and human rights. Kristina is the brain behind several successful campaigns and has won, among other prizes, the two Swedish honorary awards “Hetast i Almedalen” and "Månadens nätängel". In her work, she has been responsible for all digital communications for both the Make Equal foundation and the human rights organization Civil Rights Defenders. Kristina has been a consultant and lecturer in practical anti-discrimination work, cyber hate, intersectionality, and unconscious bias. She also co-created Skärpning – a project that collaborated with Facebook and other big stakeholders to counter hate speech and harassment online, and Näthatshjälpen – a website that allows victims of online abuse to file a digital police report, read up on their legal rights and get help. Näthatshjälpen gets over a million hits per year and remains one of the most successful projects in the field of digital rights in the Nordic region.

In December, the Board bid farewell to one of our founding members, María Rún Bjarnadóttir, who took a seat on our Advisory Board instead. Before vacating her seat, María Rún nominated Sólborg Guðbrandsdóttir to replace her as an Icelandic NORDREF representative.

Sólborg is an Icelandic activist, writer and lecturer who was nominated Outstanding Young Person of the Year 2022 for “motivating and inspiring a generation of young people to make a change” in favour of gender-equality, human rights and sexual health. She has authored three books about sexuality, body positivity and consent for young people, and is a sought- after speaker. In 2021, Sólborg led a working group at the Ministry of Education and Culture and worked on proposals for more targeted education about sexual health and violence prevention in primary and secondary schools in Iceland, online as well as offline. She has been the target of digital violence and has shared her experience in lectures, workshops and articles.

Online Presence

NORDREF’s intern, Praveena Ganesh, was instrumental in the content creation for our social media channels in 2022. Over forty social media posts were created to a growing audience of 1250 followers, covering online abuse and digital rights topics. Some of the posts had the aim of teaching our audience to know and recognize harmful online behaviour, explaining concepts like doxxing, sextortion and the Right to be Forgotten and pointing readers towards resources and further reading. Other posts were created as commentary on current events in the digital sphere, ranging from Kanye West‘s antisemetic hate speech to Iran‘s #MahsaAmini protests, and self-proclaimed mysogynist Andrew Tate‘s alleged image-based sexual abuse and trafficking, to name a few.

[1] Nordic Talks is a series of talks and podcast episodes addressing the biggest global challenges in terms of sustainability. Through conversations with some of the brightest minds in the Nordics and their counterparts from around the world, the audience is inspired and empowered to take action on sustainability issues in everyday life.

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