Arab women take to social media to expose sexual harassment

Women in some Arab countries are turning to social media to expose sexual harassment. Picture posed by actors. (Shutterstock)
Updated 19 September 2017
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Arab women take to social media to expose sexual harassment

LONDON: The car slows down and the driver leans over and leers at the woman trying to hail a taxi beside a busy road in downtown Amman.
Eyes averted, she waves a little more frantically at the taxis driving by.
Balad, Amman’s downtown area, is one of the city’s harassment hotspots and women here are frequently subjected to sexualized looks and comments or even followed down the street.
The harassment can also take the form of groping, indecent exposure or unwelcome advances.
Now some women in Jordan and elsewhere in the Arab world are taking matters into their own hands by posting details of these incidents on social media to expose the assailants and challenge normalized perceptions of sexual harassment in patriarchal societies.
In the Middle East, where fear of victim shaming prevents many women from reporting perpetrators, sexual harassment remains an inescapable part of everyday life.
“The impacts of sexual harassment go far beyond the incident itself. It affects the daily routines of many women and hinders them from carrying out normal activities to avoid being harassed,” said Farah Mesmar, a Jordan-based human rights advocate.
“Simple activities like going for a run or catching the bus need a lot of consideration, especially regarding choice of clothing or timing.”
In Egypt, where according to a UN survey in 2013, over 99 percent of women have experienced some form of sexual harassment, the female population is fighting back.
“It used to be taboo to talk about sexual harassment. Even the media would describe it as flirtation,” said Alia Soliman, communications manager at HarassMap, an NGO that logs the details of sexual harassment and assaults across Egypt in an online map.
“Now, people are starting to speak up,” she said.
Launched in 2010 and aiming to end the social acceptability of sexual harassment in Egypt, HarassMap has been instrumental in raising awareness surrounding the issue. “In the beginning there was denial that it was happening so the map provided proof,” Soliman said.

Since then, thousands have detailed their ordeals anonymously via the platform, which aims to stop social tolerance of harassment and encourage bystanders to intervene rather than remain silent.
“We’ve seen how one small intervention, even just asking the time, can divert the attention of the harasser and give the victim a window to get away.”
Public pressure can be equally effective online. Soliman recalls an incident in 2015 when a well-known store at a mall in central Cairo was forced to fire a male assistant after a women shared details of his harassment via social media.
The previous year, a video featuring a female student being surrounded and harassed by men while walking across the Cairo University campus went viral after it was uploaded to Facebook and YouTube.
Since then, a growing number of women in countries across the region have taken to the online sphere to share their stories.
In August, a video showing a group of men hounding a young women in Morocco sparked outrage, prompting popular local news site Ladepeche.ma to say that harassment had become “a national sport.”
Earlier this month a girl in Egypt shared pictures on Facebook after a man tried to grope her on a bus.
“The first thing I did was to take a picture of it so when he says he did not do anything, I will know how to respond,” she wrote.
“I’m not wearing tight clothes and my face is barely visible, find other excuses to justify what happened.”
Many are using trending hashtags to spread the word via social media, such as “My first sexual harassment experience was at age …” and “mesh basita” or “It’s not ok,” which is part of a six-week social media campaign launched over the summer by the KIP Project on Gender and Sexuality in Lebanon.
Previously, women avoided sharing these stories online for fear of being shamed, Mesmar said. “However, recently, women have been empowered by feminist social media movements such as ‘expose a harasser,’ which shares pictures or screenshots of online sexual harassment.”
Responses to these posts typically veer from sympathy and encouragement to verbal abuse and outright victim-blaming.
“People want to know what she was wearing at the time, accuse her of wanting (to be harassed), or ask why she was out at night,” said Soliman. “That’s still a very big challenge.”

Lubna Dawany, a lawyer and women’s rights activist who has co-founded several women’s rights NGOs in Jordan, said it boils down to separation between the sexes from a young age.
“When they grow to become teenagers it’s not easy to prevent the interaction — then it will come out as sexual harassment.
“It is not because they are wearing tight clothes or anything else.”
While there has been an increase in this content on social media in the past two to three years, most of the women posting already operate in the activist domain according Raghida Ghamloush, a case management supervisor at ABAAD, a gender equality NGO in Lebanon.
“A lot of women, particularly in rural communities, don’t know how to use these platforms to address the situation, or they are too scared to try.”
Many, she said, may also fear retaliation from the perpetrator’s family, or their own.
However, a growing number of women are reaching out via Facebook and WhatsApp to seek advice in dealing with harassment. “These platforms are used by everyone in Lebanon so it’s a good way for them to get in touch.”
Social media is also instrumental for ABAAD’s awareness-raising activities, she said. “It’s one of the main ways we advocate against sexual harassment and other forms of violence against women.”


Scientist in Facebook data scandal Aleksandr Kogan says he is being scapegoated

Updated 24 April 2018
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Scientist in Facebook data scandal Aleksandr Kogan says he is being scapegoated

  • Aleksandr Kogan teaches at Cambridge University
  • Kogan was behind the app that allowed consulting firm Cambridge Analytica to farm data

LONDON: The academic behind the app that allowed consulting firm Cambridge Analytica to farm the data of some 87 million Facebook users said Tuesday he was being scapegoated while the social network was being “mined left and right by thousands” of companies.
Aleksandr Kogan, who teaches at Cambridge University, told a British parliamentary committee that criticism of his work by Facebook showed the US social media giant was in “PR crisis mode.”
“I don’t believe they actually think these things because I think they realize that their platform has been mined left and right by thousands of others,” said the Russian-American scientist, who is now banned from Facebook.
“I was just the unlucky person that ended up somehow linked to the Trump campaign. It’s convenient to point the finger at a single entity,” he said, playing down his own work as of little political value.
Kogan created a personality prediction app through his company Global Science Research (GSR), which offered a small financial payment in return for users filling out a personality test.
Facebook says it was downloaded by 270,000 people, but it also gave Kogan access to their friends, giving him a wealth of information on 90 million users, according to the social media giant’s boss Mark Zuckerberg.
The data was sold to Cambridge Analytica’s parent company. Cambridge Analytica went on to work on Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign.
However, Kogan told MPs on Tuesday that the data was too imprecise to build up accurate profiles that could be used to effectively target political Facebook ads.
“One of the biggest points of confusion has been how accurate the personality scores we provided to SCL (CA’s parent company) were,” he said.
“The scores were highly inaccurate. We found that the scores were more accurate than a random guess, but less accurate than assuming everyone is average on every trait.”
Facebook’s own tools “provide companies a far more effective pathway to target people based on their personalities than using scores from users from our work,” he added.
Kogan said that CA assured him that what he was doing was “perfectly legal and within the terms of service” of the social media giant.
CA’s former chief executive Alexander Nix has denied using data collected by GSR, but Kogan called the claim “a fabrication.”
Clarence Mitchell, a CA spokesman told a press conference Tuesday that Kogan’s data “was shown to be virtually useless in that it was only just above random guessing.”
He reiterated CA did not use any of it on the Trump campaign and had broken no laws, while mistakes had been acknowledged.
“The company has been portrayed in some quarters as almost some Bond villain,” he said.
“Cambridge Analytica is no Bond villain.”
Kogan also accused Facebook of feigning ignorance of how their users’ data was being used, saying it was “well documented that Facebook collaborates with researchers.
“They gave me the data set without any agreement signed,” he explained. “Sometime later they came and we did have a signed agreement.”
When asked why Facebook would be so accommodating, Kogan replied that “this was something they gave their employees to stimulate them.”
Committee chairman Damien Collins asked if that meant Facebook let its employees give data to academics “and let them play with it?,” to which Kogan responded; “Yes.”
The scientist claimed in an earlier interview that “tens of thousands” of apps will have taken advantage of Facebook data rules.
It was, however, not part of Facebook’s terms for Kogan to sell data.
Born in Moldova and raised in Russia, before emigrating to the United States at the age of seven, Kogan studied at the University of California, Berkeley, and obtained his doctorate at the University of Hong Kong.
He joined the University of Cambridge’s Department of Psychology as a lecturer in 2012.
He has also conducted work funded by the Russian government with St. Petersburg University, but said that was irrelevant to the Facebook scandal.
The scientist also goes by the name Aleksandr Spectre, which he took when he married his Singaporean bride.
When an MP pointed out that the name was also the evil organization in James Bond films, Kogan said this was just an “unfortunate coincidence.”