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Doxing, Deepfakes and Digital Inclusion: Discussing Women’s Rights and Online Safety with Lilian Olivia Orero

Doxing, Deepfakes and Digital Inclusion: Discussing Women’s Rights and Online Safety with Lilian Olivia Orero

Lilian Olivia Orero is an Advocate of the High Court of Kenya and champion of women’s digital rights. She recently served as the youngest UN Women Civil Society Regional Reference Group Member participating in the Spotlight Initiative Africa Regional Program – a programme aimed at ending violence against women and girls. She has been part of Media Defence’s network for several years taking part in our Empowering Women in Digital Rights Advocacy Programme. Lilian Olivia also founded her own community-based organisation: SafeOnline Women-Kenya (SOW-Kenya) – born out of a commitment to addressing online gender-based violence.

Driving Force

“Women’s rights have been a significant driving force behind my legal career” Lilian Olivia Orero tells us. While her focus on gender has been steadfast, her interest in the intersection between gender and the digital sphere developed with the emergence of new technologies and “the knowledge that perpetrators are finding new ways to attack women online.”

This realisation propelled her to focus on legal frameworks, policies, and advocacy strategies that address digital rights issues, particularly for women and girls.

Emerging Threats: Doxing, Cyber Bullying and Deepfakes

As more women in Kenya access digital spaces, harassment and threats are increasingly used to intimidate and silence them. “The prevalence of online violence in Kenya is dramatically increasing” Lilian Olivia notes, “one in three women have either witnessed or experienced online violence in the form of cyber-bullying, doxing, online stalking, threats and harassment.” Doxing is the publishing of private or identifying information about someone on the internet, typically with malicious intent.

Lilian Olivia reflects on her personal encounter with cyber bullying, stating, “In January, I was posting about these issues, when people started targeting me, calling me names, and attacking my personal image. I was forced to deactivate my Twitter account. It affected my mental health and my well-being suffered. Luckily, I had support from family and friends, and I decided to get back on Twitter. I wanted to set an example and show that even though online abuse can be relentless, we can still be resilient and report abusive behaviour.”

While new technologies present opportunities for progress and platforming more diverse voices, they can also perpetuate entrenched gender bias and misogyny. Lilian Olivia highlights the rising threat of AI and deepfakes targeting women, stating, “I’ve seen AI-generated deepfakes viciously targeting women journalists and politicians, spreading disinformation about them.”

She emphasises the importance of prioritising these issues, recalling, “With my background in gender and technology, and my personal experience, I saw a good opportunity for me to champion women’s safety.

Establishing SafeOnline Women-Kenya (SOW Kenya)

Motivated by the blatant gap in resources and support Lilian Olivia established the community-based organization, SOW-Kenya. Online attacks can have devastating consequences, causing mental health challenges, and even physical harm. SOW-Kenya addresses this critical problem through education, partnerships, advocacy and Innovative technology solutions. “By providing educational resources and digital literacy programmes, women and girls will feel more confident to participate in online conversations without fear of being attacked” Lilian Olivia explains.

Rather than being discouraged by abuses of advancing technology, Lilian Olivia is harnessing digital innovation for improved safety and inclusion. SOW-Kenya is currently developing an app called SafeHer. “The app is so unique because it’s using AI and machine learning to help prevent negative comments online through anti cyber-bullying algorithms” Lilian Olivia says. The app will also act as a tool to report online violence that women and girls face. “[It] aims to foster a community-reporting mechanism. Often women, either as journalists or in public life, find it hard to report online violence and existing reporting mechanisms are ineffective.”

Freedom of Expression in Kenya

Lilian Olivia highlights Kenya’s significant progress in establishing legal frameworks safeguarding freedom of expression. Additionally, she underscores the vibrant civil society in Kenya, “where human rights organisations play a crucial role in promoting freedom of expression and holding the government accountable.”

Yet some significant issues persist: “when it comes to online harassment and cyberbullying, we do not have laws that specifically protect victims. For instance, the Computer Misuse and Cyber Crimes Act 2018 exists but does not define what online harassment is. The vague wording makes it difficult for women to seek recourse. So, despite our constitutional protection of the freedom of expression, cybersecurity laws are overly ambiguous and often misused, restricting online speech.”

She also points out the enduring gender disparity in internet access, “when you look at the number of women versus men who have access, there’s still a huge divide – this is especially true in rural and marginalised communities.”

Resistance to Women’s Digital Rights Advocacy

During an encounter with village leaders in a remote area near Kisumu, Lilian Olivia told us of the challenges she faced: “one of the questions that was posed to me was – ‘Since women are inferior to men, why are you trying to push for the rights of women’.” She tells us that “unfortunately, some people continue to believe that women should not own mobile phones. So, if they need to make online payments, they must seek permission, or borrow a device from their husband.” Lilian Olivia expressed that these persistent underlying gender norms can hinder women’s access to important digital spaces and services and need to be addressed sensitively.

Misinformation campaigns have also caused serious issues. “People are creating false narratives to discredit our work.” Several of the SOW-Kenya team have been targeted by cyber bullying aimed at silencing them. In encountering this resistance, they have started to form alliances with existing civil society organisations and long-standing women’s groups. “This has amplified our voices” Lilian Olivia notes “we ran awareness campaigns to debunk the myths challenging the importance of women’s rights”.

Working with other Women Lawyers in sub-Saharan Africa

Discussing her involvement in the EWDRA program, Lilian Olivia highlighted its practical benefits, stating, “[it] provided me with practical skills and knowledge, such as legal strategies in combating online violence, understanding cybersecurity issues, and advocating for digital rights – especially for women’s rights.” She also highlighted the networking opportunities the program offered, noting, “I have also been able to grow my professional network. The other participating women lawyers – also experts in digital rights – created an environment where we can reach out to one another and share opportunities for collaboration, mentorship, and support.”

Safer and more Inclusive Future

Lilian Olivia’s aspirations are firmly grounded in the vision of an inclusive society where every individual, regardless of gender, can freely exercise their rights and actively participate in the digital space. For her, this progress entails not only strengthening legal frameworks to safeguard freedom of expression but also addressing systemic biases and dismantling discriminatory laws. As she aptly puts it, “My aspirations are for Kenya to become a beacon of gender equality, where women have equal opportunities, access to resources, and decision-making power in all spheres of life.”

Lilian Olivia recently wrote another piece for Media Defence sharing key tips for staying safe online.

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