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    Advocacy Strategies

    Module 3: Combatting Online Violence Against Women Journalists

    Developing advocacy strategies

    The potential impact of litigation can often be augmented and supported by accompanying advocacy campaigns that seek to bolster public support and awareness around the relevant issues. This may be particularly true in matters of online violence which involve technical elements and with which stakeholders, including magistrates or judges, may be unfamiliar.

    Advocacy design and impact

    Litigators should consider the ultimate goal of the litigation and design an appropriate advocacy strategy that works towards complementing this goal by, for example:  

    • Researching particular issues to shed greater light on the case;
    • Aiming to educate specific or general audiences;
    • Seeking to build public support for the case or an issue more broadly;
    • Attempting to influence public perceptions of an issue;
    • Instigating public protests or other forms of support;
    • Advocating for policy or law reform; or
    • Aiming to better understand the public’s position on a topic.  

    An effective advocacy campaign can also help to ensure that, even where a case is ultimately unsuccessful, other impact is achieved through greater awareness of an issue or the development of a network of allies.(1)

    Keep in mind that advocacy campaigns typically require a different skillset from litigation and require building a compelling narrative or story that will resonate with large numbers of people.

    Further, lawyers can refer to, and tailor, the guidance provided by the UN Women regarding the development of an advocacy strategy to tackle violence against women.(2) This strategy can be tailored with support from country-based individuals and groups to ensure that intersectionality guides the strategy development.

    Literacy for the courts and media

    Numerous commentators note that online GBV is still a relatively nascent area of consideration in the SSA region. There is a need for efforts to engage judicial officers, as well as the media, to sensitise them on the impact of digital security attacks on journalists’ human rights, media freedom, and democratic values.

    Litigating online violence: South Africa

    The case of South African Human Rights Commission v Matumba (2018), heard in the Equality Court of South Africa, provides some guidance on some of the practical challenges of litigating online violence matters in the lower courts in the region.

    Matumba was accused of running a Twitter account in which he pretended to be a white woman and through which he made derogatory comments against black women, ostensibly in an attempt to sow racial discord and misogyny.(3) The South African Human Rights Commission sought an order that the posts constituted harassment in terms of the country’s Equality Act.

    • Digital landscape: The SAHRC, in bringing forward the case, had to make use of a tracing agent to link the Twitter account to Matumba, as well as request information from Twitter through its legal representatives to link the account to Matumba’s cell phone number. An amicus submission by media organisation Media Monitoring Africa provided extensive submissions on the context presented by social media platforms, including how that context affects the spread of the information, who constitutes the hypothetical reasonable reader on Twitter, and how to craft effective remedies in such a situation where harassment has been perpetrated online.(4)
    • Terminology: Due to the contemporary nature of the mode of harassment, it was necessary for the parties to assist with court with definitions, guidance, and examples of terms associated with the online world such as “post”, “like”, “retweet”, “bitly”, and “account owner”.

    Given that some of the terms and processes of the online world may be new to judicial officers it is important to provide useful explanations or comparative examples to ensure clarity and understanding of potentially novel terms.

    This case illustrates those amici submissions, alongside those of the parties, can be an important and impactful way to enable and enhance the literacy of judicial officers on issues of online violence.

      Legislative/policy reform

      In addition to instituting litigation, efforts to seek legislative and policy reform can be simultaneously pursued as a measure to ensure that legal provisions are put in place to provide meaningful protection to women journalists online.(5)

      The Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) provides guidance on how to ensure that legislative frameworks, most notably pre-existing harassment laws, can appropriately respond to the new challenges of online violence against women journalists. It recommends that these laws should be amended to explicitly apply to online harassment, so as not to create room for doubt as to the extension of their application, and that they should:

      • Include indirect communication, such as the creation of fake social media accounts or photoshopped images of victims shared with third parties;
      • Target online harassment that is sexual and/or sexist;
      • Include language that addresses harassment campaigns perpetrated by multiple individuals; and
      • Adopt tiered responses to punish online harassment of varying levels.(6)

      Engaging with lawmakers to enhance protection

      When the Domestic Violence Amendment Bill was first introduced in 2020 in South Africa, it gave some consideration to the role of technology in domestic violence. This sparked the interest of a diverse group of activists, technologists, policymakers, researchers, and feminists, who made submissions to Parliament.(7)  

      This enabled a robust engagement with lawmakers on emerging issues and ultimately paved the way for more detailed and enhanced protection against various online threats in the Domestic Violence Amendment Act. For example:

      • The expanded definition of harassment now encompasses various forms of online harassment, including repeated electronic communication, unauthorized access to electronic devices or accounts, monitoring or tracking of individuals without consent, sending abusive or degrading messages, sharing private information or abusive content with others, and unwelcome sexual communications.
      • The definition of sexual harassment includes sending unwanted electronic communications of a sexual nature and protects against “outing” individuals based on their sexual orientation, gender, or gender expression.
      • The revised definition of electronic communications in the context of harassment now encompasses digital audio, text, video, and images, as well as simulated and manipulated information. This expansion enables protection against the dissemination of non-consensual manipulated and deep fake images—videos or images altered to appear authentic.

      This law reform process highlights the value of engaging with lawmakers on contemporary issues to ensure more meaningful protection against online harms.  


          1. Digital Freedom Fund, 51, accessible at Back
          2. UN Women, ‘Developing an Advocacy Strategy’ (2010) (accessible at”). Back
          3. SAHRC, ‘Trial of EFF councillor who allegedly masqueraded as a white woman on Twitter gets underway,’ (2022) (accessible at”). Back
          4. Power & Associates, ‘South African Human Rights Commission v Matumba: Written Submissions,’ (2021) (accessible at”). Back
          5. Mariana Valante, ‘Do we need laws to address non-consensual circulation of intimate images: the case of Brazil’, 17 June 2018 (accessible at”). Back
          6. Dart Centre for Journalism & Trauma, ‘Journalism and Online Harassment’ (2020) (accessible at”). Back
          7. See T Power, New law protects women against online abuse’ (2022) (accessible at”). Back