Neema Iyer appointed as Facebook’s Global Women’s Safety Expert Advisor

Neema Iyer an artist and technologist, was recently appointed by Facebook as a Global Women’s Safety Expert advisor with 12 other members from all over the world. The Facebook Global Women’s safety advisory board will advise Facebook whenever it’s developing new policies, products and programs related to women’s safety.

Also read: A phenomenal force in tech law in Uganda, Alice Namuli discusses the field and how startups can deal with legal issues

Neema has done tremendous work through feminist research and tackles subjects such as digital inclusion and digital rights. She is also the founder of Pollicy, a civic technology organization based in Kampala, Uganda and is a co-host on the Terms and Conditions podcast. She discusses what this new role means to her and her desire to increase safety in digital spaces.

A chat with Neema Iyer about her appointment on the Global Women’s Safety Board

Congratulations on your new role as a Global Women’s safety expert advisor. What does this new role mean for you and the work that you do?

Facebook’s Global Women’s safety expert advisory brings together experts working in civil society, activism and academia to advise the company on how best to create a safer online experience for users from across the world. This new role is an opportunity to work towards getting African voices and experiences on social media platforms to improve the community guidelines in a way that meets our unique needs.

What do you look forward to achieving as you take up this new role?

We started working on a research project last year called Alternate Realities, Alternate Internets focused on documenting the online lived experiences of African women across 5 countries in Africa, including experiences of online violence, how effectively reporting to platforms work and how governments respond to online violence reports and threats. This role is a further opportunity to work towards my goal of pushing for a safer and feminist internet.

What key areas do you think the Women’s safety hub still needs to address or what challenges are still existing in terms of creating safe digital spaces?

There’s a need to localize and make easily accessible content on how women can stay safe online. Reporting mechanisms, awareness about how and why to report and response to reporting should be improved. In terms of content moderation, social media companies need to understand the context of hate speech within individual countries and spend more resources on content moderators who understand local nuances.

It’s a hard task, there are many languages across Africa and comparatively, yes, African countries are smaller markets than our Western counterparts. But, this is part of the work of being a global company!

How can Ugandan women benefit from the work of the Women’s safety hub in regards to existing in safer digital spaces?

We work continuously with Ugandan women to understand their needs and perspectives. At Pollicy, we recently hosted a roundtable discussion in partnership with Facebook together with civil society experts on mass harassment and community standards regarding public figures. Should they, for example, be held to the same account as regular users when considering how they give or receive hate speech, abuse, or even when it comes to de-platforming.

Earlier this year, de-platforming of certain accounts related to election campaigning on Facebook resulted in a wide-sweeping social media ban and Facebook remains inaccessible within the country till today. It’s important for Facebook to understand how to approach similar problems across different countries that keep users safe.

Read also: Why Facebook remains shutdown in Uganda despite complaints

What efforts are there to increase digital inclusion for women especially in Uganda seeing that a majority are still left out?

Removing barriers to access such as OTT tax or digital tax. Cost is a major barrier to access in Uganda, where our internet data rates are much higher than many of our neighbours. We also need to work on improving digital literacy skills within school curricula, lowering the digital gender divide, and incentivizing women to use the internet to gain skills, drive businesses, connect with others. Patriarchy and cultural norms also keep women offline. And of course, online safety is another issue. We hope to work towards making the internet a safer place, but we’ve still got a long way to go!

What is the mission of your organization, Pollicy? Please provide an overview of it.

Pollicy is a feminist collective of technologists, data scientists, creatives and academics working at the intersection of data, design and technology to craft better life experiences by harnessing improved data. Our work focuses on influencing a culture of responsible data use, promoting appropriate data governance practices and advocating for policies that support an enabling data ecosystem.

How can an ordinary Ugandan gain from Pollicy?

Technology is moving at a rapid speed, and we all need to make sure we’re aware of the benefits and the potential harms on our society. At Pollicy, we are working on research and projects that look at how data, technology and design is impacting our society, but there is a significant need for citizens to stay on top of the latest trends, on how to stay safe online, how to be a part of the global ecosystem, what are the repercussions of using foreign technology, of repressive data governance policies. We’re stuck in a capitalist world order, and we have to keep up.

Read more: An insight into MiahUg’s work as it thrives in the prop-tech world

Read more: AI meets healthcare: How Shamim Nabuuma is transforming telehealth for cancer patients

READ: Lycamobile Uganda increases its data prices. Here’s why!

Stay on top - Get the daily news in your inbox