Bianca Fileborn and Rachel Loney-Howes
The development of social media, and Web 2.0 more broadly, has revolutionized all aspects of our social, cultural, and political lives. Notably, social media and online platforms have opened up space for resisting gender-based violence (GBV) in a way that, in some respects, was not possible “offline.” Some authors, drawing on Nancy Fraser, have conceptualized online spaces as a form of “counter-public”—a site in which collective and individual resistance to, and contestation of, dominant norms is enabled. Given the well-documented trajectories of victim-blaming and the perpetuation of various myths and misperceptions in relation to gender violence, social media spaces can function as a counter-public or countercultural forum in which victim-survivors can give voice to their experiences in their own words, and in doing so challenge persistent norms and stereotypes. Such practices have been documented across the Global North and South, with the potential of social media as a space of resistance and contestation most recently evidenced by the #MeToo global phenomenon, which was preceded by a string of digital activist efforts such as SlutWalk, Hollaback, #WhyIStayed, and #EndRapeCulture.
Yet the use of digital platforms to resist gender violence brings with it a range of concerns and limitations. While some activists and victim-survivors are able to harness social media to share experiences and be heard, the ability to do so continues to be shaped by factors such as age, (dis)ability, sexuality, socioeconomic status, race, and geographical location. Online resistance has likewise faced critique for actively reproducing certain myths and stereotypes about gender violence, or for providing a limited or partial picture of what this violence “is.” This suggests that only certain victim-survivors and experiences are recognized and validated as such online. In addition, online disclosure and the “naming and shaming” of perpetrators raises serious concerns regarding due process and “vigilantism.” Moreover, social media spaces can themselves be sites of gender violence, with the routine harassment and abuse of (particularly) women online increasingly well documented. Together, such perspectives illustrate the complex, nuanced, and deeply political role of social media as a site of resistance to gender violence.