Tech Policy Design Lab pilot: building solutions to tackle online abuse of women

20th April 2021 | Update

This post was written by Azmina Dhrodia, Web Foundation Senior Policy Manager, Gender and Data Rights. Follow her on Twitter @snazzyazzy.


This week we’re bringing together tech companies, policymakers, regulators and civil society experts for the pilot of our Tech Policy Design Lab, as part of the Contract for the Web.

We urgently need more collaborative and effective ways to tackle the significant technology challenges we face, from privacy and online safety, to misinformation and discrimination. Right now we lack spaces where companies, governments and civil society can work together productively to find product and policy solutions that can shape a better, fairer, safer web.

We’re building a Tech Policy Design Lab to help change this. We aim to bridge the gap between technologists, policymakers, researchers, and those who use online services — applying the right mix of expertise and experience to create effective, workable product and policy solutions to some of the biggest technology challenges of our time.

We see the Lab as part of a new phase of tech policy development: where solutions are developed on the basis of sound evidence — not reactionary politics; where there is meaningful multi-stakeholder participation; where people and their online experiences drive policy and product design; and where solutions take into account the full diversity of those who use digital tools.

The first issue we’re taking on is the devastating rise of online abuse and harassment against women and girls, as part of the Web Foundation’s wider commitment to tackle digital inequality.

Co-creating solutions to tackle online abuse against women

In collaboration with Feminist Internet and Craig Walker, we’re running three design workshops to co-create product solutions to online gender-based violence, bringing together 50+ experts from tech companies, civil society and governments from across the world.

These workshops are built upon and informed by evidence produced in a series of multi-stakeholder consultations we held over the past year to understand the reality of the abuse women are facing on social media platforms in various countries and contexts.

Using design thinking that centres the experiences of women online, participants will work in small groups to develop product prototypes that address specific problems underpinning online abuse and harassment, based on evidence surfaced in the consultations and other research.

Online gender-based violence is a massively varied and complex problem and so, to give the necessary focus to the workshops, participants will tackle specific issues around abusive replies and comments on social media platforms. The goals will be focused around 1) Curation — giving users more control over what they see online and who can interact with their posts and 2) Reporting flows — making sure cases of abuse are better handled when they do take place.

The participants will design their prototypes for fictional user personas, which will all be highly-visible women online, such as journalists and politicians (who often face the highest levels of abuse). As we’ve done throughout this project, these workshops will take an intersectional approach, recognising that marginalised communities disproportionately experience abuse online. If we solve for those worst affected, we solve for everyone.

From prototypes to product changes

Following the conclusion of these three workshops, we’ll take these prototypes and refine them further to reflect the technical and design realities of social media services and develop gender-by-design principles. These prototypes and principles will be published in a report along with additional materials from the workshops, including methodologies and findings.

This work leads up to the United Nations Generation Equality Forum taking place June 30

– July 2, where UN Women is calling on governments and companies to make commitments

to advance gender equality. We’ll be working to ensure the social media companies participating in the workshops — Facebook, Twitter, Google and TikTok — take forward the prototypes and principles we develop, and work to test, adapt and adopt these in a transparent way. After Generation Equality, we’ll be reviewing their efforts to reduce the instance and impact of online abuse targeting women on their platforms.


This work is part of the Contract for the Web — the roadmap of action to create an online world that is safe, empowering and for everyone. Find out more and endorse the Contract at contractfortheweb.org.

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