If not us, then who?
Online abuse has become a part of everyday life. It is manifested in various ways, for example in the form of threats, harassment, hate speech or non-consensual sharing of intimate photos. Twenty percent of those who contact Iceland's only women's shelter are seeking help as a result of online abuse. In Denmark, as many as 59% of the population avoids partaking in discussions on Facebook because of increasing hostility, insults and personal attacks. In Sweden, certain politicians have received so many threats online that they no longer dare to sit down in public transport, as it would be easier to escape an attack from a standing position. Across the Nordic countries, media professionals are increasingly subject to threats and hate speech, with many of them admitting that it affects the topics they choose to cover. All of this is happening in the corner of the world that is supposedly leading in terms of democracy, equality and openness: The Nordic region.
The abuse that takes place online affects all of us, but some social groups are targeted more often than others, depending on their line of work or their identities. People who belong to minority groups because of their race, ethnicity, religion, sexuality, gender expression or disability are subject to more online abuse than others - particularly if their job requires them to be active participants in the public discourse. Statistics show that women who partake in online discussions are more likely to be harassed, threatened or attacked based on their gender. Women's freedom of expression isn't the only right that is under attack, the same is true for their right to privacy. One of the most common forms of online abuse is the non-consensual sharing of nude photos, which overwhelmingly targets women and girls.
This means that online abuse comes at a personal cost for victims, as it limits their ability to express themselves and live their lives in modern, digital times. The societal cost is no less serious, as online abuse silences certain voices, threatens freedom of expression and thereby undermines democracy itself.
The ongoing pandemic has underlined that the internet has become an inseparable part of our daily lives. Many of us work from home with the help of an internet connection, while medical services, shopping and banking have gone largely digital. Simultaneously, due to social distancing, quarantine and travel restrictions, the internet has become the main - and sometimes the only - way to communicate. In retirement homes, residents are saying their final farewells to their children and grandchildren via video chat. Many of us will be spending Christmas with our loved ones on a screen, as opposed to physically present and ready to help with the dishes. Although many of us would probably prefer in-person presence over digital company in our private lives, the internet has played a crucial role in the global economy in 2020, saving countless jobs.
The Nordic region is rich with organisations and people who work tirelessly to preserve and further the rights of women and minorities. Valuable initiatives are also being taken to safeguard the internet and the rights of the 26 million netizens who live here. We want to unite those visions under one banner. That is why we've founded NORDREF, the Nordic Digital Rights and Equality Foundation. Our goal is 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.
Equality is one of the cornerstones in the Nordic identity. Freedom of speech is another prominent and protected feature in our societies. The Nordic cooperation is the oldest regional partnership in the world and it aims high. In the Nordic Council of Ministers' Vision 2030, the goal is to ensure that the Nordic region is the most self-sustainable and integrated region in the world ten years from now, where growth is based on digital integration and equality, among other things.
We want to do our part to ensure that those goals are reached. The founders of NORDREF have worked with digital rights for years, in their respective countries. We've educated tens of thousands of people about online abuse, written legal reforms, published books and articles about digital violence and the internet as a democratic venue, as well as collaborating with social media companies and other authorities on technical solutions.
It is a privilege to live in the Nordic region, the part of the world that scores highest in international comparisons when it comes to democracy and equality. In terms of the internet, we're also one of the most connected areas in the world. As a result, we have everything it takes to become an international role model when it comes to digital rights, ensuring that the internet becomes a place where everyone has the same opportunities to learn and grow.
If not us, then who?
María Rún Bjarnadóttir,
founders of NORDREF
PROGRAMS & PROJECTS.
NORDREF's founders have a wide range of projects and programs that revolve around digital well-being. Below are some of the areas where our expertise could be applied.
Consultation about digital rights / abuse
- On legislation
- On educational reform
- On law-enforcement and justice system approaches
Mapping the scope of the problem
- In general
- In the media
- In politics
- In interpersonal relationships
Outlining best practices
- For victim resources
- For abuse prevention
- For law enforcement resources
- Creating a collaborative venue for exchange of best practices in the Nordic region, locally and internationally.
Awareness-raising and sensitivity-training
- For policy makers
- For the general public
- For law enforcement and justice system workers
- For media companies
Development and problem-solving
- Maintaining, updating and synchronising definitions in the region
- Developing and implementing tools and solutions