The lack of action on the harassment faced by assassinated journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia resulted in her murder, her son Matthew Caruana Galizia said at the World Economic Forum in Davos.
He said they first used her sons against her, before the attacks became more widespread: “They first targeted her through us. That’s not easy for a mother. She persisted, and then she was killed”.
Other participants in the debate on ‘Speaking out under threat’ the inventor of the World Wide Web Sir Timothy John Berners-Lee, and acclaimed Pakistani journalist and winner of two Academy Awards and six Emmy Awards, Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy.
Describing Malta as highly misogynistic and politically polarised, Caruana Galizia said the culture of impunity led to the murder his mother.
“Nothing was done about this harassment, and it just got worse and worse. Things like anonymous letters, anonymous emails then led to physical attacks. Our house was set on fire twice, our dogs were killed and then eventfully my mother was murdered,” Caruana Galizia said.
And given this impunity, the people who carried out the murder “reasonably expected” to get away with it, Caruana Galizia added.
The abuse women receive is much worse than the one levelled at men, “to a degree that no men would be able to understand”, he said.
Obaid-Chinoy, best known for her films ‘Saving Face’ and ‘A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness’, recounted how she was on the receiving end of death threats and online abuse for her activism and work against domestic violence. She said that she had to “protect herself” from the “absolutely despicable” abuse by taking herself off social media.
Describing social media as “a beast we have no control over,” Obaid-Chinoy said anonymity should be banned because otherwise it is impossible to track down people who harass and bully activists.
Yet Caruana Galizia argued that anonymity is essential to protect whistleblowers and people who provide information about corruption and other wrongdoings. Being on the receiving end of anonymous attacks himself, Caruana Galizia said that people should still be allowed to come forward with information anonymously because it is crucial in the fight against a greater evil.
Renowned Lebenese-Swiss cartoonist Patrick Chappatte said, “we live in an open world, with closed minds” and called for social media to introduce mechanisms which would reintroduce curation and ensure that information is verified and correct. This, he said, can be obtained through a certification mechanism.
Chappatte – whose cartoons appear on prestigious publications such as Le Temps, Neue Zürcher Zeitung, Der Spiegel and the New York Times – said that social media giants such as Facebook are not shouldering their responsibilities as owners of a media platform.
Discussing how fake news and harassment can be controlled, Berners-Lee said that algorithms can be tweaked in a way to change how and what information is shared and promoted on social media, adding that this could possibly lead to “a more friendly world.”