To Aid or Hinder: Social media’s complicated relationship with sexual content and expression

Name: Smita Vanniyar

Organisation: Point of View

Country: India

Stakeholder Group: Civil Society Organisation

Thematic Area: Freedom of Expression

Session Title: To Aid or Hinder: Social media’s complicated relationship with sexual content and expression

Session Format: PANEL

Co-organizers Name (if any): Japleen Pasricha

Speakers Name: Nadika Nadja, Jasmine Kahlo, Dhrubo Jyoti, Japleen Pasricha, Smita Vanniyar

Speaker Status: Invited

Relevance of the issue with specified session theme: Sometimes referred to as the love child of the World Wide Web, social media in the internet space has become an increasingly important space for speech and expression. Though the internet helps in leveling the playing field a little, the power structures and prejudices from the offline space inevitably enter the online space. This applies to social media as well. For example, only 24% of Facebook users in India are women, women and queer persons who speak out on social media are often harassed etc. Content which deal with sexualities of women and queer persons especially are constantly taken down by Facebook, Instagram etc. for not adhering to “community standards” in various countries, and accounts which do not comply to the Real Name Policy on Facebook are frequently taken down. This affects those belonging to the trans community and gender non-conforming persons. At the same time, there are secret groups on Facebook which give queer persons a safe space. There are trans persons and queer groups who use Twitter to dispel myths and stereotypes through conversations. This makes social media a double edged sword.

Content of the session (Objective of the session): On one hand, there is censorship by the social media companies themselves as well as censorship and self-censorship due to online harassment. But on the other hand, social media has helped in subverting the dominant hetero-normative ideas of gender and sexuality. This session aims to discuss and debate this line which users play with in order to exercise their rights to freedom of speech and sexual expression. It will be in the form of a discussion as well as repartee where speakers discuss the ways in which users have innovatively used social media to speak out in spite of censorship from the platforms themselves, and hence, how it is has in turn become an important space for them. The second part will be a conversation cum knowledge sharing session involving both the participants as well as the speakers. This is because it is essential that we learn from one another to ensure that social media spaces and the internet as a whole, is available for everyone in actuality and not just in theory.

What is USP of the session: The main USP of this session is the fact that it will acknowledge the aspects of social media which has helped in promoting freedom of speech and sexual expression. Though women and queer persons have numerous hurdles in access as well as usage of the internet and social media, there have been several instances where this technology has aided them. This session will look at both, the positives and the negatives of this space, understanding it is important to celebrate subversions and small victories and, more importantly, learn from them.

Please describe how you will use your speakers and how their views/ perspectives /expertise will be included in the session: We aim to bring in five speakers who have all used social media in both personal as well as professional capacities. They have used it to speak out about feminism, gender identities, sexuality, the intersection of caste with sexuality, the role of class in queer communities and various other topics. Two of the speakers also run various social media handles for their respective organisations. This way, they will collectively be able to bring in their perspectives and expertise on how they respectively use different platforms for speaking out as well as giving out information. It will also be very interesting to see how personal use differs or is similar to professional usage.

How are you bringing diversity in your proposed session whether it is relevant to the specified theme? Out of the five speakers, three identify as queer and one as trans. There will be four women and one man on the panel. Though three of the speakers are based in Delhi, one in Mumbai and one in Bangalore, they bring in a bigger regional diversity having lived in several different states including Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, West Bengal, Gujarat, and Maharashtra. This is very important with the theme of freedom of expression because there is really no point in only people of certain gender, sexuality, caste, class and region having the opportunity to speak and express themselves. If some of us don’t have the freedom to speech and (all kinds of) expression, none of us have the freedom of speech and expression.

Relevant Tags (Minimum 3 tags) social media, sexuality, gender