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A global definition of online harm.

A global definition of what is online harm

There is a lack of universally accepted definitions of online harms. This lack of shared understanding has led to fragmented definitions and an inability to comprehensively address online harm, authors of a report of online harms argue presenting their report that is published by the World Economic Forum’s Global Coalition for Digital Safety. 

All harm types can potentially lead to an unlawful denial of participation and freedom of expression and these rights must be balanced against an individual’s right to be free from online harm and a right to dignity, the report says.

“In this digital age, our global society has become intricately woven together through the power of the internet and various online services. This vast digital network has ushered in numerous benefits, bridged geographic divides, facilitated access to knowledge and promoted a global exchange of ideas.”

The report notes that two out of three of the global population — over 5 billion people — use the internet. 

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“Among these users, numerous individuals, particularly children and marginalized groups, are exposed to various online harms.”

As examples, the authors mention that Ofcom, a UK media regulator, has found that  62% of internet users aged 13 and up confront at least one potential online harm in a four-week span, with scams, fraud and phishing as the most prevalent threats.

According to the International Telecommunications Union, around 80% of children in 25 countries report feeling at risk of sexual abuse or exploitation online. 

Over a third of young people in 30 countries have experienced cyberbullying leading one in five of them to skip school. 

“There is also a ‘digital disconnect’ between the kinds of harmful content young people are encountering online and their parent’s awareness of these experiences. The Australian eSafety Commissioner’s Mind the Gap Research found that 71% of teens were coming across seriously harmful content and only half of their parents were aware.

“The World Economic Forum’s Global Coalition for Digital Safety recognizes the need for unifying disparate definitions and it is with the report The Typology of Online Harms proposing to address this gap.” 

“Addressing these harms and fostering digital safety requires a delicate balance of legal, policy, ethical, social and technological considerations across the digital ecosystem’s many cultures, regulations, languages and norms.” 

“As recommended in the Global Principles on Digital Safety, despite this complexity, the need for a shared understanding and common language is paramount. Global collaboration on tackling online harms can only be achieved through mutual comprehension”. The report says.

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Examples from the report:

Sexual abuse 

While the laws of many countries continue to use the term “child pornography”, there has been a global movement towards the use of the term “child sexual abuse material” (CSAM) to properly convey that sexualized material depicting or otherwise representing children is indeed a representation, and a form, of child sexual abuse.

Grooming for sexual abuse 

When someone uses the internet to deliberately establish an emotional connection with a young person to lower their inhibitions, and make it easier to have sexual contact with them. It may involve an adult posing as a child in an internet application to befriend a child and encourage them to behave sexually online or to meet in person.

Material that promotes suicide, self-harm and disordered eating 

Content that promotes suicidal or selfinjurious behaviour. Includes content that promotes, encourages, coordinates or provides instructions on: – Suicide – Self-injury, including depictions of graphic self-injury imagery – Eating disorders, including expressing desire for an eating disorder, sharing tips or coaching on disordered eating, or encouraging participation in unhealthy body measurement challenges

Online bullying and harassment 

The use of technology to bully someone – to deliberately engage in hostile behaviour to hurt them socially, emotionally, psychologically or even physically. This can include abusive texts and emails; hurtful messages, images or videos; excluding others; spreading damaging gossip and chat; or creating fake accounts to trick or humiliate someone. 

Sexual extortion 

Also called “sextortion”, the blackmailing of a person with the help of self-generated images of that person in order to extort sexual favours, money or other benefits from them under the threat of sharing the material beyond the consent of the depicted person (e.g. posting images on social media). Often, the influence and manipulation typical of groomers over longer periods of time (sometimes several months) turns into a rapid escalation of threats, intimidation and coercion once the person has been persuaded to send the first sexual images of themself.

Image-based abuse 

Sharing, or threatening to share, an intimate image or video without the consent of the person shown. An “intimate image/video” is one that, where there is a reasonable expectation of privacy, shows nudity, sexual poses, private activity such as showering or someone without the religious or cultural clothing they would normally wear in public.

The foreword of the report is written by Julie Inman Grant, Australian eSafety Commissioner, Daniel Dobrygowski, Head of Governance and Trust, World Economic Forum, Adam Hildreth Founder, Crisp, a Kroll business and Minos Bantourakis Head of Media, Entertainment and Sport Industry, World Economic Forum.

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