For Immediate Release: July 30, 2020
Mary Anne Franks, J.D., D. Phil
President, Cyber Civil Rights Initiative
Cyber Civil Rights Initiative (CCRI) Granted Sub-award from the National Science Foundation to Study Cyber Sexual Violence During the COVID-19 Pandemic
Coral Gables, FL: The Cyber Civil Rights Initiative is delighted to announce that it has received a sub-award from the National Science Foundation to study how the shift to online communication during the COVID-19 pandemic may have facilitated an increase in cyber sexual violence, including nonconsensual pornography (also known as “revenge porn”), cyber harassment, and sexual extortion. The project will be led by CCRI President Dr. Mary Anne Franks (University of Miami School of Law) and CCRI Head of Research Dr. Asia Eaton (Florida International University).
The project, “COVID-19 and sexual cyberviolence: Impact on general users and vulnerable populations,” was conceived by Dr. Franks and CCRI executive staff in response to the NSF’s April 2020 Dear Colleague Letter on COVID-19, which encouraged researchers to submit proposals focused on understanding and addressing the impact of the pandemic through NSF’s Rapid Response Research mechanism. The grant was awarded on July 27, 2020.
As Franks wrote in CCRI’s Letter of Intent, the COVID-19 pandemic “has necessitated a massive shift to web-based communication, which has meant that millions of Americans can work, attend classes, perform routine errands, and maintain vital social and civic connections virtually. It has also meant that Americans are adopting unfamiliar, untested, and insecure communication technology that may leave them susceptible to nonconsensual pornography (NCP, also known as “revenge porn”), sexual extortion, harassment, stalking, inadvertent exposure of private information, and multiple other vulnerabilities….Abuse and exploitation are rife on newly-popular video conferencing applications such as Zoom, as trolls and hackers take advantage of new users’ lack of familiarity with privacy and security settings. Malicious actors have hijacked town halls, graduation ceremonies, and classes all around the country, subjecting unsuspecting members of the public to violent child pornography, racist invective, and misogynist abuse. Sensitive information from Zoom calls, including intimate conversations, nudity, and personally identifiable information about children, are accessible on the open web.”
CCRI anticipates that the research findings will inform recommendations for public and private sector intervention. Among these recommendations may be digital safety strategies for users, best-practice policy suggestions for legislatures and tech companies, and practical guidance for law enforcement and social service providers. The recommendations will hopefully prove useful for future events that may necessitate similar “shutdowns,” including natural disasters, civil unrest, domestic or international terrorism, or another health emergency.
About CCRI: CCRI’s mission is to combat online abuses that threaten civil rights and civil liberties. CCRI is one of the nation’s preeminent nonprofits working to protect vulnerable groups from threats such as nonconsensual pornography (NCP), sexual extortion, digitally manipulated audio-visual material (“deep fakes”), and other online abuses. CCRI provides testimony, legal analysis, and amicus briefs on issues relating to online privacy and free expression. CCRI has also provided support to over 7,000 victims of NCP through the CCRI Crisis Helpline.