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Illustration by Walker Gawande shows Masked protesters hold signs on the street in Macedonian

Is tech providing an invisible cloak for harassment?

Behind the Scenes of "Private Abuse in Telegram’s “Public Rooms”: Can North Macedonia Fight Online Sexual Harassment?"

In the recent sci-fi thriller “The Invisible Man”, Elizabeth Moss plays a woman who flees an abusive relationship after her husband’s apparent death, only to discover that her ex has actually faked his death and invented new technology to become invisible, the better to harass her in a way that she cannot prove and no one believes.

I have to confess, I didn’t see it. Because I don’t really need to imagine new ways that technology will be used to abuse women in the future, when it's already happening all around us.

In our latest story, Elena Gagovska explores a scandal that transpired in North Macedonia but has echoes all over the world. Adults, teenagers, even prominent politicians used a Telegram channel to distribute nude photos of women without their consent, as well as contact info for women and teens – even child pornography. But when the rooms were discovered, law enforcement seemed to struggle to hold anyone responsible.

We chose this piece because the use of tech as a loophole for harassment hit a nerve. Even as conversations about consent, gender identity, and power relations are more nuanced and widespread globally than ever before, women are facing a backlash enabled by big tech and internet anonymity.

In India, journalists and activists face coordinated harassment by large groups organized on WhatsApp and social media. Journalist Rana Ayyub was even targeted by a campaign distributing deep-fake porn videos of her after investigating the ruling BJP party.

In the US, states are pushing for sneaky new laws that pay people who report on women who accessed abortion rights, and men are already coordinating online how they can use surveillance of women to collect a cash reward. 

The laws designed to protect from harassment and invasion of privacy, often created by men who were born in an era long before the internet or mobile phones, are simply not up to the task.

In the meantime, internet, messaging apps and social media have also been harnessed by feminist movements around the world, from #metoo to Poland’s abortion-rights Czarny Protest to the viral performance “The Rapist is You” from Chile that caught on worldwide. 

But the full potential remains untapped, while impunity for sexist harassment seems to develop in all directions, like a rhizome that grows new roots whenever one avenue has been cut off.

Perhaps the solution lies in prevention, and holding space for new forms of masculinity that don’t reward “locker room talk” and worse, whether IRL or online. Until then, we at Unbias the News will continue to monitor how tech is being used by the powerful, and how the oppressed are fighting back. 

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