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NORDREF's Annual Report 2023 and Planned Activities '24-'25

 



The Nordic Digital Rights and Equality Foundation (NORDREF) was founded on the vision to work towards equality and democracy in the Nordic region by developing and sharing knowledge about digital rights and responsibilities, while protecting people's right to safely partake in discussions and other activities online. 

 

In the 2024 and 2025, we plan to contribute towards this goal in the following ways:

 

 

·      Through research

 

·      Through the creation of evidence-based tools to counter online abuse and further democratic participation in digital spaces

 

·      Through idea exchange and networking

 

·      Through awareness-raising and education

 

·      Through Nordic collaboration

 

 

All of the above methods overlap in NORDREF‘s flagship project: The Game Changer, as explained below.

 

 

RESEARCH

 

In 2021, NORDREF was granted a research grant from the Nordic Gender-Equality Fund (NIKK). The existing research on online abuse in the Nordic region has indicated that men are overrepresented among perpetrators, and when it comes to perpetrating sexually motivated online abuse, men under the age of 30 are dominant. However, there is still a lot left to learn about perpetrators, what their motives are and what their relationship to their victims is. In 2024, NORDREF presented the results of research that profiled Nordic perpetrators, based on three years of work and data from 300 victims of online abuse, 50.000 police reports and 400 court cases from Denmark, Iceland and Sweden. The research mapped out the perpetrators‘ age, gender, relationship to their victims and possible motives for their behaviour, along with analyses of gender dynamics in online spaces and society as a whole. The researchers presented the results to a live and streamed audience at the National Museum of Iceland in collaboration with the University of Iceland on February 19, 2024.

 



Researcher and Board member Christian Mogensen presenting research results, February 2024, Reykjavík.

 

 

The Game Changer: Phase 1 (2023-2024)

 

The results of NORDREF‘s research laid the foundation for the Game Changer, an international collaboration whose first phase involved partners in Sweden, Finland and Iceland, including the E-sports Federation of Iceland (RÍSÍ), the Swedish gaming organisation SVEROK, the award-winning Finnish youth work Sua Varten Somessa, and the Violence Prevention School of Iceland (Ofsi). Game Changer Phase 1 started in September 2023 and spans 12 months, while the second phase is will last throughout 2026. The aforementioned research by NORDREF revealed that young men and boys are overrepresented among perpetrators of gender-based online abuse, and as a result, the Game Changer aims to create evidence-based tools, campaigns and initiatives to counter abuse in online spaces, aimed at youth with a special focus on reaching young men using the fun methods of gaming and digital youth work. The overall goal of the project is to strengthen young people's digital rights and cyber citizenship. Moreover, the Game Changer envisions young people's "online utopia" by gathering information about the changes to digital environments that young people deem necessary for them to reach their highest potential - and help them craft it, using methods of gaming, community-building and social entrepreneurship. This project is funded by the Erasmus+ program.


 

Game Changer collaborators during a work meeting in Reykjavík, October 2023. NORDREF was represented by Board members Kristina Wicksell (SE), Louna Hakkarainen (FI) and Thordis Elva (IS), as well as project worker Eygló Árnadóttir.

 


The Eggplant Bot

 

One of the tools that NORDREF‘s research and subsequent collaboration with the Game Changer project has led to is the Eggplant Bot, that chats with users about sexting (the exchange of nude photos or sexual messages), helping them figure out how they feel about it and what experiences they‘ve had so far. Most importantly, the bot corrects the mindset of those who are under the impression that sending or sharing nude photos without consent is acceptable, which is one of the most widespread and pressing misconceptions to uproot in order to prevent online abuse and sexual harassment. 



Furthermore, the Eggplant bot advises those who are into swapping nudes on how to be mindful of consent and boundaries, their own as well as other people‘s. It also validates the feelings of those who haven‘t made up their mind or simply aren‘t interested in sexting, while empowering those who have been sexually harassed or violated, equipping them with support and resources.

 

 



If I Were Boss of the Internet

 

 

Another of the initiatives within the first phase of the Game Changer project, led by NORDREF, was research into the digital health of youth in Sweden, Iceland and Finland. A questionnaire titled If I Were Boss of the Internet was presented to hundreds of youth in the three participating countries in the spring of 2024. The results of the research will be announced in October, outlining how young people in the Nordic region feel about their digital existence and how it can be improved to increase their wellbeing and self-image, strengthen their democratic participation and enhance their overall quality of life.

 

 

The Game Changer: Pase II (2024-2026)

 

In a polarized world of increasing echo chambers and digital isolation, the Game Changer seeks to break the mold and build bridges through international exchanges and collaboration, cataloging and leveraging the successful initiatives in our respective countries to improve our collective digital experience, while equipping and empowering youth with tools and influence to make the internet a place where they can flourish in work, play and democratic participation.

 

The second phase of the project, which starts in 2024 and lasts throughout 2026, will employ multiple strategies to elevate the field of digital rights and strengthen Nordic collaboration around it, categorized into two pillars: #PlugItIn and #TakeTheLead.

 

 

In general, violence prevention work suffers from underfunding and a lack of resources. This is even more true for online abuse, which is still not widely seen as a “serious” or “real” form of violence. As a result, optimizing online violence prevention and digital wellness resources is crucial. #PlugItIn will focus on ensuring that the existing tools are used and plugged in to the respective areas where their usefulness can be maximized (youth work, education, violence prevention etc.) thus lengthening the life-span of existing initiatives and guaranteeing that they find their way into the hands of those who are working on the ground to help youth develop healthy attitudes, online as well as offline. For example, NORDREF’s

work has revealed that tools like StopNCII, developed by Meta to counter image based sexual abuse, is unknown to a majority of people who work with youth, including teachers and youth workers. As a result, a brilliant tool that was designed to empower victims of non-consensual intimate image-sharing and help them reclaim their agency is not finding its way into the hands of the demographic that needs it the most. #PlugItIn aims to rectify this and ensure the distribution of knowledge and tools that improve the digital aspects of life on a local and national level in the participating countries. As a result, a comprehensive Encyclopaedia of Digital Rights and Safety will be created. It will consist of a database that contains an overview of, and guide to, tools, campaigns, handbooks, websites, and games to counter online abuse, strengthen cyber citizenship, and enhance digital wellbeing. The Encyclopaedia will act as a model and guide, so that youth workers and other stakeholders can access what has been done successfully. In order to increase visibility of existing material, all organizations or projects referenced will be credited, but their material will not be copied, only linked to, in order to increase traffic to initiatives already carried out.

 

Never has a systematic collection and categorization of such materials been undertaken on a national or international scale. While challenging, the technical aspects of database creation and ensuring sustainability are hurdles we confidently address. #PlugItIn uncovers gaps in Nordic countries, highlighting strengths and weaknesses in digital youth work, a crucial revelation based on the Game Changer project.

 

 

 

#TakeTheLead is designed to address the sore lack of dialogue that has been identified between our countries, despite every society in the Nordic region facing the same challenges online. This results in precious resources and manpower being used inefficiently and the wheel being reinvented in our separate corners. For example, Icelandic stakeholders were planning to build a one-stop website that caters to all needs of online abuse victims, including information about the law, links to legal support, counseling and the option of filing a digital police report. Meanwhile, Sweden has had a successful website for years with the exact same functions (Näthatshjälpen) which gets a staggering one million visitors per year. Similar situations have arisen in Denmark and Finland, due to a lack of oversight and knowledge about already existing tools and solutions, which risks a reinvention of the wheel that was already doing wonders in a neighboring country.

 

One of the main tasks in #TakeTheLead is to create a Nordic Digital Youth Embassy and appoint Digital Youth Ambassadors (under the age of 30) in each of the participating countries, whose role is to interpret the gaps revealed in the encyclopedic #PlugItIn database, that might uncover how one country is doing very well in one area of digital safety but lagging behind in another. By fostering an international dialogue and facilitating an exchange of best practices, the role of the DYAs is to ensure that resources are maximized via the learning from each other's successes and mistakes, ultimately elevating the field of digital rights and digital youth work in the Nordic region and beyond. DYAs advocate for specific needs that the analysis will uncover in their country, making positive country comparisons as well as highlighting areas of improvement, such as the lack of digital youth work in Iceland or an outdated legislation on image-based sexual abuse in Denmark. Representing young voices, these ambassadors will actively participate in local and national discussions on digital matters.

 

#TakeTheLead tackles the lack of dialogue among Nordic countries, causing inefficient resource use in countering digital safety issues. An info-pack will be created in the Digital Youth Embassy to reinforce the links between policy, research and practice by examining what works in each of the participating countries and what legal, regulatory and policy frameworks there are in each of them to support such initiatives. That way successful/best practice initiatives can be replicated in other countries.

 

Game Changer collaborators during a worktrip to Helsinki in March 2024.


 

 

The Partners

 

 

The partnership formed in the second phase of the Game Changer project amalgamates diverse expertise, spanning violence prevention veterans at OFSi, researchers at NORDREF, advocates at Digtalt Ansvar, educators at CFDP and gaming enthusiasts at SEUL and RÍSÍ.

 

In terms of how they complement one another, RÍSÍ, SEUL and CFDP have direct access to youth that neither OFSi, Digitalt Ansvar nor NORDREF have. However, the latter organizations have expert knowledge about violence prevention, digital rights and online abuse from an academic and theoretical standpoint, which the aforementioned youth organizations stand to benefit greatly from. Together, our combined expertise can result in quality youth work that is engaging and educational, harnessing the fun-filled methods of gaming and youth work and combining it with the evidence-based knowledge brought forth through research and activism, to materialize the ambitious vision of setting a global standard and - quite literally - change the game for young people’s online experience.

 

 

AWARENESS RAISING AND EDUCATION



In 2023 and 2024, NORDREF representatives spoke at conferences and lectures in Denmark and Iceland to live audiences that surpassed 6000 people. This included Ungdommens Folkemöde in Copenhagen on April 2023, where Chair of the Board Thordis Elva gave the seminar The Andrew Tate Effect: Is Cyber-Violence Trending? The event was planned and funded by the Nordic Council of Ministers. The audience was larger than the venue supported, so the doors had to remain open and people stood along the walls and sat on the floor, underlining the interest and demand for the topic.

 

After the event, participants sent warm feedback on social media.




 

NORDREF representatives also gave speeches about online abuse and digital rights at sold-out conferences in Hotel Natura and Hotel Hilton in 2023, hosted by project partner Stígamót, the counseling center for survivors of sexual violence in Iceland. The events were attended by the President of Iceland as well as other high-level officials and over a thousand participants.

 

 

Last but not least, Chairperson Thordis Elva undertook a nation-wide tour to Icelandic colleges between 2023 and 2024, educating young people and teachers about their digital rights and online abuse, based on NORDREF‘s research. The colleges included Menntaskólinn í Reykjavík, Tækniskólinn, Menntaskólinn í Kópavogi, Menntaskólinn við Sund, Kvennaskólinn, Framhaldsskólinn á Vesturlandi, Fjölbrautaskólinn í Breiðholti, í Garðabæ, á Suðurlandi and in Suðurnes, Menntaskólinn á Egilsstöðum, Keilir, Hringsjá, Verzlunarskóli Íslands and Flensborg college.




Researchers María Rún Bjarnadóttir and Christian Mogensen discuss gender-based online abuse in a Nordic context with Board member Bjarki Þór Grönfeldt at NORDREF‘s event in Reykjavík on February 19, 2024.


 

NORDIC COLLABORATION

 

 

The aim with NORDREF is to elevate the field of digital rights in the Nordic region and beyond, by building an international cooperation around digital rights and connecting those who are working with this issue in our respective countries. We believe the Nordic region to be best suited to take global lead on this pressing issue. According to international standards, the Nordic region has come furthest in the world in terms of democracy and gender-equality, as well as being some of the most digitalised societies, so if we can‘t use those advantages to illuminate a path forward to an online sphere where everyone is free to reach their full potential, it‘s hard to see who will. With privilege comes responsibility, and from the perspective of NORDREF, the least we can do is try to take on some of these pressing global questions.

 

True to the vision of international collaboration with the aim of putting the Nordic region at the forefront of digital rights worldwide, NORDREF collaborated with NGOs and institutions in Denmark, Sweden, Iceland and Finland in 2023-2024, including RIKK/University of Iceland, University of Göteborg, the Nordic Council of Ministers, Sua Varten Somessa, Ofbeldisforvarnarskólinn, Stígamót, Sverok and RÍSÍ, to name a few.

 

The collaborations that NORDREF has lined up for 2024 and 2025 sees the foundation partnering with Digitalt Ansvar and Center for Digital Pedagogik in Denmark, SEUL and the Non-Toxic initiative in Finland, as well as the newly formed Nordic Esports Federation, amongst others.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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