On January 21st 2017, civil rights activist Linda Sarsour led a Women’s March in Washington D.C.1 More than four million people attended, sing-posting it as one of the biggest single-day protests in US history.2 The march was organised as a response to Donald Trump’s presidential victory in November 2016.
Contrary to this success, soon after the event, various articles emerged, alleging that Sarsour was in fact antisemitic and was affiliated with ‘Hamas’, a Palestinian fundamentalist organisation that aims to impose their faith on all Americans.3 Resultingly, ‘Hamas’ has been labelled as a ‘terrorist organisation’ by many states.
Despite the brevity of these accusations, there is evidence to suggest that they are not so unfounded, as Sarsour makes it explicitly known on Twitter of her criticisms towards Israel and Jewish movements, declaring that ‘nothing is creepier than Zionism’.4 Additionally, a Rabbi from Brooklyn has also noted her struggle to consistently defend Sarsour, naming her ‘ultimately indefensible’.5
However, her connections to ‘Hamas’ and romanticisation of Shariah Law remain contestable and rather seem somewhat barbaric, particularly since Sarsour consistently highlights that ‘Shariah Law is misunderstood and has been pushed as some evil Muslim agenda’.6 Is Sarsour’s activism and advocation for the rights of Muslims substantial grounds to label her an unforgiving and obsessive imposer of Shariah Law?
Following such a colourful background in Islamic activism, such allegations seemed drastic. Correspondingly, it has now come to light, in a recent New York Times article, that it was in fact organisations linked to the Russian government who had infiltrated the media with such claims, in an attempt to criticise and dismantle the feminist movement she had convened.7 The article noted that archived Russian Twitter accounts contained 2,642 tweets regarding Linda Sarsour.8 Separate to Sarsour’s allegations, criticisms towards white and liberal feminism also emerged. Nonetheless, the predominant labels were enough to force Sarsour to step down from her role as co-chair the next month.
In the case that the New York Times’ assertions do indeed hold truth, does this affirm the need for feminist tech laws?
The answer is undoubtedly and whole-heartedly, yes.
It is irrefutable that this interference has irrevocably damaged and overshadowed the success behind Sarsour’s Women’s March. It has tainted its message and outcome entirely, driving assumptions that the immoral mission’s aim has been achieved: displacing the power feminism garners.
This is a prime example of the disorderly deepfake phenomenon. It is woefully unjust that large corporations and governments are able to take advantage of their technological advancements and use AI as a weapon against those challenging their prejudiced regimes, however indirectly. As a matter of fact, the detachment between the US Women’s March and Russia’s presence only reinforces the extremity of this situation, showcasing how feminism, as a holistic movement, is at stake in the face of these relentless keyboard warriors.
Despite this unscrupulous event having occurred in the US, calls for greater technological protections towards women can be extended to a more global context. For instance, in the UK there are similar battles, albeit on a less prolific scale, with the Online Safety Bill refusing to offer an adequate duty of care for women and young girls.9 This narrow-minded move has provoked various campaigns, all outraged because key quantitative findings are being ignored. Such include, how women are 27 times more likely than men to be harassed online.10 Thus, greater recognition must be demanded of governments, and even international organisations, to construct protections for those vulnerable to the ever-advancing world of technology.
Furthermore, Linda Sarsour’s experience should serve as nothing more than to elevate calls for feminist tech laws. Data protection and social media regulation must be enforced, not simply on a national level, but also internationally, to preserve the fire that burns within feminism.
Written by Jennifer Reynolds