GW’s Institute for Data, Democracy and Politics Expands Its Global Reach

Digital rights activist Seyi Akiwowo is the latest addition to the one-year-old IDDP, where research is driving national and international responses to questions of digital media.

GW Today
December 03, 2020

Seyi Akiwowo was 26 when she came face to face—or face to faceless—with one of the Internet’s nastiest hazards. Three years into her tenure as the youngest Black woman ever elected by her borough of Newham to London’s city council, a riposte she’d delivered to anti-refugee hecklers at a European youth parliament event went viral. (“What do you think about…former empires ensuring there is economic and political stability in these former colonized countries?” Ms. Akiwowo inquires in the clip. “Then we won’t have to migrate here.”)

Initially, the response was positive. But the link found its way to a hive of anonymous trolls who subjected Ms. Akiwowo to a relentless wave of racist, misogynistic online abuse she now calls “horrific.” And the social media platforms on which they operated seemed either helpless or passively hostile when it came to stemming the tide.

“It was really clear to me as a woman in politics that online abuse and harassment was a massive barrier to entering politics and a massive threat to our democracy,” Ms. Akiwowo said. “And I was so frustrated with tech companies’ response to women in politics facing abuse because we’re the ones using the platform the way they originally intended. Right? We're the ones that are using it for conversation and debate and inclusion; we’re the ones bridging the information and access divide.”

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