By Claire Zillman
June 23, 2017

The sexual harassment and discrimination that women in India often face has been well documented in this newsletter. Their ill treatment stems from “an extremely patriarchal way of thinking,” Anshul Tewari, founder and editor in chief of content publishing site Youth Ki Awaaz, told me recently. And those attitudes easily translate from the real world to the virtual one.

Many men feel that they command power over women, even in an online setting, Tewari says. One rampant problem is the unsolicited online messages that women receive on social media from men who try to befriend or control them. Pushback against such advances has, in some instances, prompted men to download women’s photos, create fake profiles based on the woman’s identity and post unflattering, even pornographic, content, Tewari says.

“There’s not clear information on how much it happens,” he says, but “a lot of people are struggling [with it].”

Facebook has caught on to this problem through research that showed that many women in India are uncomfortable posting profile pictures of themselves for fear they’ll be misused. So the social network introduced new tools late Wednesday that it hopes will make its female users there feel safer on the platform.

The new features will give users more control over who can download and share their profile photos—images that Facebook users can often see even if they’re not friends with the person pictured. The first feature is a photo guard that users can trigger that will keep others from being able to download, share, or send the photo in a Facebook message. The second feature is a design overlay that a woman can put on her profile picture, which, according to Facebook’s research, makes other users 75% less likely to copy it.

In explaining the rationale behind the two new tools, Facebook product manager Aarati Soman pointed to CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s February manifesto, which called for the creation of a worldwide community. In it, he also mentioned the “real opportunity to build global safety infrastructure.” Soman says that in India in particular, the risk of photo misuse “is a top-of-mind concern for women.”

“A lot of what affects women offline affects women online,” she says.



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