Gendered disinformation is a coordinated strategy to silence women and gender non-conforming voices and drive them out of public life and online spaces, Irene Khan told the United Nations in New York today.

Presenting her report to the General Assembly, the Special Rapporteur highlighted the distinct and dangerous nature of gendered disinformation and called for more effective responses from States and social media companies.

“What makes gendered disinformation particularly dangerous is that it doesn’t just spread lies about individuals, it uses well-coordinated campaigns and networks to exploit and affirm existing gender biases, stereotypes and social and cultural norms based on patriarchal values,” said Khan.

“Incendiary, misogynistic statements by government officials, political figures and religious and community leaders have created a toxic environment in some countries in which state and non-state actors feel emboldened to discredit, intimidate and threaten women and gender nonconforming persons,” she noted.

“While high profile women leaders, journalists and human rights defenders are more likely to be attacked online, increasingly gendered disinformation on social media is also targeting young women and adolescent girls, chilling their speech and aspirations,” she said.

“The ultimate aim of gendered disinformation is to reduce the diversity of voices and views, and undermine inclusive, democratic societies and the collective struggle for gender equality,” said Khan.

“Gendered disinformation is a challenge to human rights, and strategies to fight it must be grounded firmly in international human rights law,” she said.

“While it is imperative to make digital spaces safe, measures to do so must not restrict freedom of expression beyond what is permitted under international human rights law, or the results will be counter-productive” she stressed.

“Freedom of opinion and expression is essential for women’s political, social and economic empowerment, for preserving democracy and for promoting the transformative changes that gender justice demands,” noted Khan.

“Because the goal of gendered disinformation is to disempower women, States must invest in their empowerment and agency, not in censorship or paternalistic policies,” she said.

“State officials and political leaders have a particular responsibility to set the tone of inclusive public discourse,” she reminded.

Recalling the commitments made at the recent High-Level Summit on Sustainable Development, she urged governments to reinvigorate efforts to remove the structural and systemic barriers to gender equality which feed gendered disinformation.

“States must urgently address women’s unequal access to the internet and gender related data which create an imbalance between those who spread anti-gender narratives and those who confront them,” she said.

“Social media companies need to move away from a “one-size-fits-all” approach and identify and address the specific factors that increase the risks of gendered disinformation in different contexts, and improve their content moderation, complaint procedures and application of community standards,” she said.

Pointing to several positive initiatives at the community level in various regions of the world, she urged States and companies to work with women’s and human rights groups to make online spaces safe for all while upholding freedom of expression.

“There must be no trade-off between women’s right to be safe and their right to speak,” she emphasized.

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