IGF 2018 WS #322
Measuring Online Violence Against Women in Politics


Organizer 1: Kirsten Zeiter, National Democratic Institute (NDI)
Organizer 2: Jessica Roland, National Democratic Institute
Organizer 3: Julia Canney, National Democratic Institute
Organizer 4: Sarah Moulton, National Democratic Institute
Organizer 5: Sandra Pepera, National Democratic Institute (NDI)

Speaker 1: Sandra Pepera, Civil Society, Western European and Others Group (WEOG)
Speaker 2: Soraya Chemaly, Civil Society, Western European and Others Group (WEOG)
Speaker 3: Derek Ruths, Technical Community, Western European and Others Group (WEOG)


Sandra Pepera

Online Moderator

Kirsten Zeiter


Sarah Moulton


Panel - 90 Min


The panel will facilitate a multi-sector dialogue between experts who can draw from their expertise in digital activism, computer science, and women’s empowerment to discuss methods for defining, measuring, and combating online violence against women in politics. Each speaker will share their perspective and engagement with this issue, the strategies they have employed, the challenges that exist, and potential next steps for addressing online violence against women in politics. Specifically, Soraya Chemaly will contribute her perspective as a leading writer, activist, and advocate for curbing online abuse, media and tech diversity, and expanding women's freedom of expression, in order to lay the groundwork for the discussion and set out some key issues to consider. Derek Ruths will discuss his work as a leading researcher in using data to measure and predict large-scale human behavior, including his recent work on NDI’s project on measuring online violence against women in politics, and share the findings and lessons learned emerging from the data analysis. A representative from one of the local civic tech groups (TBD, from Indonesia, Colombia, or Kenya) who worked with NDI on the project will then discuss the process of developing contextually- and linguistically-specific algorithms for detecting and measuring online harassment on Twitter. Finally, Sandra Pepera will discuss the body of work in the democracy and governance sector on gender equality in the digital space, including the above-mentioned project and other current and upcoming projects on the subject.


The speakers and moderator of the panel represent varying genders, geographic backgrounds, age groups, stakeholder groups, and policy perspectives. To further facilitate diversity and broad-based participant interaction, the discussion also plans for digital participation and engagement. The panel moderator will further take every effort to ensure diversity and inclusion in participation during the Q&A / discussion session at the conclusion of the panel, to ensure a variety of voices have the opportunity to contribute meaningfully to the discussion.

The session will be a panel discussion engaging experts from multiple sectors about strategies for defining, measuring, and combating online violence against women in politics, particularly in the context of conducting quantitative multidisciplinary research on the subject. This session aims to (1) raise awareness of the prevalence and anti-democratic impacts of online harassment against women in politics; (2) foster knowledge- and idea-sharing among panelists and audience participants of the strategies for understanding, documenting, and combating this type of online harassment; and (3) strengthen an international network of experts and practitioners across sectors working to combat online harassment and protect the democratic integrity of the information space.

As part of our work on Violence Against Women in Politics (VAW-P), the National Democratic Institute is currently implementing a case study data analysis project focused on political discourse on Twitter among student populations in three countries. The aim of the project is to understand the nature and extent of online violence as well as whether and when young women disengage from political discourse as a result of experiencing this violence. The data from these case studies will be used in advocacy aimed at digital platforms on the need to ensure that women can continue to participate in online discourse in order to protect the quality and integrity of the online space and of democratic practice and culture.

The panel will engage experts from multiple sectors including digital activism, women's empowerment, and technology & computer science, to discuss the project in the context of building methodologies for increased international understanding of this issue and identifying strategies for combating it. This will include reflections on the project’s goals and methodology, discussion on the results and lessons learned, and perspectives on the role of this and similar projects in global efforts to foster a democratic and inclusive internet space.

Moderated by Sandra Pepera, each speaker will have the opportunity to share their perspectives on defining, measuring, and combating online violence against women in politics, particularly in the context of conducting quantitative multidisciplinary research on the subject. In order to facilitate a lively dialogue between the speakers, Ms. Pepera will open the floor to allow each speaker to share their perspectives through a series of guiding questions. There will be opportunity throughout the discussion for panelists to interact with one-another and address points raised by the panel. Following this, there will be time for questions and discussion from the audience within IGF and through online participation.

A growing number of reports from around the world indicate that as women step forward to claim their right to participate in politics, they are met by acts that encompass harassment, psychological abuse (both in person and online), and physical or sexual assault. This phenomenon of violence against women in politics is a global issue that manifests itself as a significant barrier to women’s meaningful political participation. This in turn has serious repercussions for the achievement of inclusive and resilient democratic societies.

Digital technology and social media are providing new mechanisms for the anti-democratic impact of psychological abuse and other forms of violence against women in politics. Increasingly, attacks against politically-active women are channeled online, where harassment can be anonymized, develop a mob dynamic (sometimes transnationally) and undermine a woman’s sense of personal security in ways not experienced by men. In turn, online abuse and harassment leads to women’s self-censorship and withdrawal from public discourse, and represents a direct barrier to women’s free speech, ultimately undermining the integrity of the information space and of democratic culture and practice. This issue thus relates directly to the “Human Rights, Gender & Youth” theme of IGF 2018 and the “Democracy” and “Gender Equality” sub-themes.

Online Participation

This panel will be live-tweeted for simultaneous engagement with civil society, democracy and governance, and women's empowerment experts. Twitter will also be used to promote the panel discussion and facilitate live interaction with an international audience. Our online moderator, Kirsten Zeiter, will participate online as well and feed questions from these participants up to the panel in real time in order to develop a robust global discussion.