Women easier targets for cyberbullies

Head of communications and public affairs at Google SA's Mich Atagana gave the opening address on  ‘Empowering women in the digital age’ on day one of the Standard Bank  2019 Top Women Conference.
Picture: Palesa Dlamini
Head of communications and public affairs at Google SA's Mich Atagana gave the opening address on ‘Empowering women in the digital age’ on day one of the Standard Bank 2019 Top Women Conference. Picture: Palesa Dlamini

When it comes to cyber bullying, women are easier targets. This is the sentiment expressed by head of communications and public affairs for Google SA Mich Atagana, who delivered the opening address at the Standard Bank Top Women conference held at Emperors Palace Convention Centre in Kempton Park on Wednesday morning.

Women from various business sectors, including finance, digital and communications, made their presence felt at the event.

Promising to be an inspirational event, the two-day convention, which ends on Thursday, is a gathering of the nation’s most accomplished businesswomen and thought leaders. It forms part of a series of symposiums across the country that shine the spotlight on the challenges and solutions facing women.

On the list of speakers and influential women to share their experiences on day one of the event were African Fashion International chief executive Precious Moloi-Motsepe, South African gold medallist Caster Semenya, economic advisor to the president Trudi Makhaya, Miss Earth SA director Catherine Constantinides and Atagana.

With cyber bullying being a phenomenon that has been on the rise, given the growth of social media apps, Atagana recalled how she was bullied as a young girl and related this to how bullying now happens in open and public spaces such as social media.

“When I think about the digital space and the world we exist in, especially on social media platforms, we have taken these old ideas of bullying into that world where women are constantly targeted by people who can hide behind their social identities and say whatever they want,” she said.

“You have people who think they have the right to tell you what your life should be like. People who think they can tell you how to be better without context or knowing your experiences.”

Atagana stressed the importance of social media platforms working to curb acts of bullying and how women should stand together against it.

“Platforms like Google, like Facebook, like Twitter need to be better at making sure that when people carry on in a manner like that, they [social media platforms] take a stand and say enough is enough. And all of us in this room need to jump on to those comments and say that this is not okay. This is wrong.”

She expressed how online bullies should be removed from these spaces.

“If you walk into a bank and you start hurling insults at people, what will probably happen is that you are going to get thrown out, as it should be on these social media platforms. We should digitally escort people out when they behave in such a way.”

Addressing the issue of inclusivity in the work digital space and the importance of women being a part of that space, Atagana said current technologies were built by individuals who designed them for people like themselves.

“We use technologies that are built by men. Half of the apps we use are built by men. Where are the apps that women are building, where women are actively thinking about the way women use technology that is affecting the way people behave?”

“There is a need to create more inclusion in the way that we build the technologies that are being used by more than half the population of the world.”

She called for technologies to be more inclusive.

“There are a lot of opportunities to do this and the world is finally waking up and realising that it makes sense to bring women into the workforce in a really powerful way.

According to Atagana, women need to be more honest and forthcoming with one another.

She said: “We are so desperate to find a Messiah that we have decided to not be critical in the way we champion women and we must be critical in the way we champion women, even though that is an unpopular thing to say.

“We have to be because it is important for the young women coming up to know that when you are a woman creating a business, you build a business of value that supports and a business that skills because all these three things are driven by passion.”

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