AI's role in addressing Gender-Based Violence: A comprehensive exploration in the latest European Schoolnet Podcast


Welcome to the third episode of the European Schoolnet podcast series, in collaboration with the menABLE project, an EU funded project, dedicated to combating online gender-based violence. In this episode, we explore the intersection of artificial intelligence (AI) and its role in addressing gender-based violence. AI stands as one of the most transformative technologies of our time, yet it brings significant ethical concerns, including data privacy, biases, and its potential to challenge existing societal inequalities.

A recent study from UNESCO published this year,  describes worrying tendencies in Large Language Models (LLM) to produce gender bias, as well as homophobia and racial stereotyping. Women were described as working in domestic roles far more often than men – four times as often by one model – and were frequently associated with words like "home", "family" and "children", while male names were linked to "business", "executive", "salary", and "career. This underscores a critical issue within AI development that demands immediate attention and rectification.

European Schoolnet has invited Silvia Semenzin, an international activist and postdoctoral researcher specialising in technology-facilitated gender-based violence, to navigate these complex issues in this new episode.

The evolution and risks of AI in Gender-Based Violence

Silvia Semenzin outlinies the evolving landscape of online gender-based violence influenced by AI. She highlights deepfake technology as a particularly concerning example, where manipulated content, often sexually explicit and targeting women, perpetuates harmful stereotypes. Additionally, generative AI fuels defamation campaigns and online harassment, posing disproportionate risks to women, especially during critical political moments.

Discussing the motivations behind AI misuse, Silvia points to malicious intent and deep-rooted online misogyny, where women are targeted to silence their voices in digital spaces dominated by traditional gender norms. She underscores the societal impact, drawing from her groundbreaking research on platforms like Telegram, revealing patterns of non-consensual dissemination of intimate images that reinforce harmful gender norms and toxic masculinity.

What is the role of education and advocacy?

The conversation shifts to the pivotal role of education and advocacy in combating online gender-based violence. Silvia shares insights from her advocacy work, including her work in the #intimitàviolata campaign in Italy, which successfully led to the criminalisation of non-consensual image sharing. She emphasises the urgency of comprehensive sexual and digital education to empower young people with the critical skills needed to navigate online spaces safely and responsibly.

Sylvia shares that her involvement has primarily been through an NGO in Italy called Virgin & Martyr, which focuses on sexual and digital education. She explains that students often invite the organisation to their schools because they are eager to learn about topics such as gender identities, digital sex, and even pornography. Despite political barriers in Italy that limit such discussions, it is evident that young people are interested in and need this education to navigate both online and offline spaces safely.

Looking ahead: Integrating ethics and innovation

In concluding remarks, the conversation touches on the need for ethical considerations to guide AI development and policy. Silvia emphasises the imperative of integrating feminist perspectives in technology to ensure inclusive solutions that effectively combat gender-based violence.

"Education is crucial," Sylvia states. "But so is fostering a broader societal understanding of privacy, consent, and ethics. Political responses often lag behind technological advancements, highlighting the need to integrate feminist perspectives in technology development to ensure inclusive and ethical solutions."

As we reflect on AI's potential to both exacerbate and mitigate gender-based violence online, it becomes evident that addressing these challenges requires a multifaceted approach. From legislative actions to cultural shifts and ethical considerations, the journey towards leveraging AI for positive societal impact demands collective effort and ongoing dialogue.

This episode of European Schoolnet, in collaboration with menAble, highlights the urgent need to recognise gender violence as a societal issue and use AI responsibly to create a safer online environment for everyone.

Join us in continuing this crucial conversation to drive meaningful change in the digital age. For more information about the menAble project, visit their website. We also encourage you to follow and support the work of Silvia Semenzin.

menABLE, which stands for "Empower Manpower against gender-based violence online", is a two-year project co-funded by the European Commission. Its primary objective is to combat online gender-based violence by fostering mutual awareness, tolerance, and respect.

Explore the menABLE Toolbox «Ctrl+Alt+GBV» , an interactive educational material on empowering gender dialogue online. The Toolbox materials are aimed at 13-18-year-old young people, fostering reflection and actionable insights.

As part of the menABLE project, European Schoolnet is collaborating with Child Focus (Belgium), Center for Digital Youth Care (Denmark), and FORTH (Greece) to address online gender-based violence. Recognising that the active involvement of men and boys is crucial to achieving the project's goals, the project aims to prevent online gender-based violence by tackling its roots causes and by promoting means of prevention strategies primarily, but not exclusively, targeting boys and young men.

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