Tech for good?

What is the future of technology-facilitated abuse? Are we able to harness tech for good to combat it?

An eager audience gathered at the Monash Conference Centre in Melbourne’s CBD on Thursday 8 September to hear what measures major social media platforms, dating apps and government bodies are taking to address technology-facilitated abuse and the challenges, ethics and potentials of using technology to respond.

Co-hosted by Monash Arts’ School of Social Sciences and the Australian and New Zealand Society of Criminology (ANZSOC), the event was part of Social Sciences Week, a week-long series of events held across Australia each September offering insight into the impact of the social sciences on our lives.

Moderated by Monash Arts’ Associate Professor Asher Flynn, in conjunction with RMIT’s Associate Professor Anastasia Powell, representatives from Meta, Bumble, Twitter and Australia’s eSafety Commission discussed issues and themes around digital technology, harms, digital crime, AI and social media.

Twitter’s Head of Public Policy (APAC), Kara Hinesley, explained that offline trends - both positive and negative - shift to become online trends as our lives move further into the digital space.

Indeed, as noted by the eSafety Commission's Manager of Adult Cyber Abuse, the “use of technology is weaved into the fabric of our everyday lives”, however the difference in offline and online abuse is accountability, or rather the myriad of potential ways to achieve lack thereof online.

Findings from Associate Professors Flynn and Powell’s ANROWS funded research, Technology-facilitated abuse: Extent, nature and responses in the Australian community provided a critical measure of just how prevalent an issue abuse is. Their study found that one in two (51%) Australian adults reported having experienced at least one abusive behaviour in their lifetime.

Meta’s Head of Public Policy (Australia), Josh Machin, concluded that the findings are “not surprising, but they are shocking and should motivate action”.

That’s not to say action is not already being taken. Bumble’s Head of Public Policy (APAC), Mahima Kaul, explained that the international dating app has recently partnered with non-profit Bloom to provide support (resource library access, one-to-one chat support or therapy sessions) to members of the Bumble community who experience sexual assault or relationship abuse.

AI technology is also playing an increasingly vital role in proactively detecting instances of abuse across all the featured platforms.

It was clear from the outset of the evening that safety is a key priority for all organisations present.

Upon concluding the event, Professor Powell noted that technology acts as a multiplier to abuse.

However, in combating such a widespread and insidious concern, technology is also proving to be a multiplier to the solutions that are available.