As public figures, both men and women in politics are at risk of online abuse. According to a new report by the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network (BIRN), much of the abuse targeted at women is specifically based on their gender.
“As women, we endure certain things which have that sexual connotation,” said Mirjana Lepic Marinkovic, an MP of Nasa stranka [Our Party] and a member of Bosnian state parliament’s gender equality committee.
“The only other group perhaps experiencing a similar type of thing would be members of the LGBT population,” said Lepic Marinkovic, also an MP of Nasa stranka, “Those terrible vulgarities that men do not experience. For example, being called a whore, especially with the prefix ‘Serbian’, or talking about what they would do to me.”
According to Daniela Jurcic, a professor at the University of Mostar specialising in media and gender equality, the anonymity afforded by social media is key to gender-based online abuse.
Lana Prlic, a deputy leader of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) disagrees. When she became the target of online abuse after promoting vaccination against COVID-19, most of the people targeting her on social media did so under their own names.
“There were people there writing sexist comments who at the same time had their grandchildren, wives, daughters, sisters in their profile photos,” she told reporters. “And people face no consequences since the internet is not considered public space.”
The European Union has proposed the Digital Services Act as a means of curbing illegal, though perhaps not harmful, content. Under the proposed changes, social media giants like Facebook will be required to conduct regular risk assessments and hire independent auditors; the goal is to target online hate speech, disinformation, and counterfeit products. Social media platforms face heavy fines for failing to act.
In Bosnia, the Regulatory Agency for Communications (RAK) governs television and radio broadcasters, but social media platforms face next to zero regulation.
“It is a horribly inefficient and slow process during which I really lost faith in our justice system because it is corrupt and inefficient,” said Professor Jasna Durakovic, a member of the SDP.
Most of the female politicians who participated in the survey said the Bosnian justice system was, at present, too slow and inefficient to effectively target incidents of online abuse.