Gender, Surveillance & Big Data

by Nicole Shephard

My Twitter Chat Premiere

I recently had the pleasure to be part of a Twitter chat hosted and moderated by GenderIT, who I’ve written for in the past. Along with Anita Gurumurthy, founding member and executive director of IT for Change we discussed the impact of big data, data governance and dataveillance on gender and women’s rights.

This was a first for me – I’ve lurked on my fair share of Twitter chats in the past, even casually participated in a few, but this was the very first to have my name on it! It was lots of fun and an engaged discussion of some of the topics that have accompanied me through a number of projects: gender, surveillance and big data.

I enjoyed this format very much. It satisfies my desire to come prepared and to not be put on the spot, as it’s easy to curate a few talking points and prepare backup tweets. At the same time, it allows for organic and spontaneous interaction with other participants. I used TweetDeck to (try to) stay on top of the hashtag, mentions, and replies – with moderate success. I was just too busy typing to pay much attention to the live columns. Thankfully others moderated and were there to nudge when necessary! All in all, my first but likely not my last appearance on a Twitter chat.

Impact of big data on gender and women’s rights

The chat was in part aimed at discussing and promoting my recent APC issue paper about big data and sexual or gender surveillance:

In an issue paper on Big Data and sexual surveillance commissioned by APC, Shephard (2016) argues that the collection, storage and analysis of digital data is framed in ways that serve as tools for the reinforcement of gender and sexual hierarchies, as well as colonial oppression. Anita Gurumurthy in a recently published issue paper A feminist action framework on development and digital technologies (APC, 2017) argues that increasing datafication of bodies, identities and interactions leave no scope for individuals, especially poorest women and gender minorities, to decide the uses to which this data is deployed, or the forms of knowledge that are constructed on top of it.

We began by introducing some of the basics around big data and dataveillance, and gradually moved on to gender, surveillance, and big data. We were particularly interested in how data and surveillance become relevant to feminist and women’s movements, how gender, surveillance and big data are connected. Other questions we discussed include the relationship between big data, civil rights, and development, or the impact of big data on access to healthcare and the welfare state.

To catch up with our full conversation on gender, surveillance and big data have a look at the Storify GenderIT kindly put together, or read up on the hashtag #dataveillanceandgender over on Twitter. I’m not embedding the whole chat here because it turned out quite long. Who knew how much conversation fits into one hour! And we didn’t even get to all the talking points I had (over) prepared just to make absolutely sure I wouldn’t run out material mid-way.

Illustration for Twitter chat Anita Gurumurthy & Nicole Shephard big data, gender, women's rights


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