A Conversation on Cyberconsent

October 15, 2020 , Written by Paola Quiros

In the context of the SFU #consentmatterssfu Fall 2020 campaign, the Sexual Violence Support & Prevention Office (SVSPO) concluded the month of September by hosting a panel of guests for a conversation about the impacts of online gender-based violence and cyberbullying. The main purpose of the conversation was to learn practical strategies to enhance a online culture of consent. The SVSPO's educators Paola Quiros and Belinda Karsen moderated the conversation and welcomed the following panelists:

  • Dr. Wanda Cassidy, Professor of Education at Simon Fraser University and Co-founder and Director of the Centre for Education, Law, and Society. Her research focuses on the legal literacy of youth, cyberbullying at K-12 and post-secondary levels, and the ethic of care in schools.
  • Chris Dietzel, a doctoral candidate at McGill University, whose research explores sexual consent as it relates to dating app use and sexual violence against LGBTQ+ people.
  • Rebecca Pacheco, Social Worker, and the lead on YWCA’s iMPACTS project: Not Online, Not on Campus, a research-based project aiming to address sexual violence and dismantle rape culture in post-secondary institutions.
  • Kristina Kabdullina, a 4th-year International student from Kazakhstan studying International Studies with a concentration in International Security and Conflict at Simon Fraser University, and lead contributor of the SVSPO’s self-care journal for supporters and survivors, You Matter.

The problem

Panelists agreed that there appears to be a collective belief that the Internet provides us with a sense of anonymity that easily could facilitate harm. This sense of freedom provides some individuals with the ability to share their opinions without any thought about the harms that they may be perpetuating. With few to no mechanisms for accountability, many are sharing messages, writing responses, and writing reactions that are rooted in oppressive and harmful attitudes and beliefs, while others are feeling pressured to engage in dynamics without their consent.

Also, the lack of clear policies and reporting mechanisms for online service platforms has left people feeling more isolated and alone in online platforms, which do not seem to offer tangible solutions.

On October 5th, the international child rights’ organization Plan International Canada released the findings of a global survey of 14,000 girls aged 15–25 in 22 countries, including Canada, which showed that more than half (58 percent) have been harassed or abused online. The types of harassment that most girls are facing in Canada are: abusive and insulting language (72 percent); purposeful embarrassment (64 percent); body shaming (61 percent); sexual harassment (55 percent); and stalking (51 percent). Unfortunately, feminine-identified people are being disproportionately targeted online.

We all have experienced the complexities of online dating or at least heard stories from friends or acquaintances. Cis straight women have plenty of stories of receiving uninvited photos from cis men when they either do not want to continue the online conversation, are not interested in the person, speak their minds, or want to keep boundaries. However, LGBTQI+ folks, non-binary folks, and trans women, in particular, are disproportinately targeted through online apps.

The impacts of technology-facilitated gender-based violence (TFGBV) can be severe and long-lasting. From psychological impacts like shame, depression, or fear, functional consequences like changing a route or taking down a profile, to life-threatening impacts like suicide, the lack of accountability of online platforms are moving people away from the main purpose of many of the digital spaces to connect and bring closer relationships, regardless of physical borders.

Panelist Chris Dietzel, explained the difference between how people interact with one another on a dating apps and how they interact when they eventually meet in person from an app connection. These interactions could drastically change if consent has not been part of the conversation. In his research findings on relationships among men, gender-diverse and trans people, Chris has identified three ways in how people think of consent online:

  • Consent as a contract: What was talked online is expected to happen when in-person.
  • Consent as an assumption: People act on the assumption that what was talked online could or has to happen, with no willingness to clarify in person.
  • Consent as continuous: People can change their minds regarding consent. Because you say yes online does not mean you will say yes in person. People here practice explicit consent, asking questions, negotiating what works or not for the other person.


As individuals, it is important to think about how we communicate our needs and practice the needs in terms of sexual consent when engaging online. Assumptions of consent online or in-person could lead to sexual violence. Through the webinar, we have reaffirmed the importance of practicing clear and ongoing consent in digital settings. We know there is no easy fix, yet starting the conversation is an invitation to move forward as active bystanders online. We need to start breaking the veil of anonymity and continue finding ways to create accountability online, as sexual violence also happens in the virtual world.

Safety Tips:

  • Become familiar with the reporting and blocking abilities of apps and social media platforms.
  • Be aware of the risk when engaging with other through apps (blocking abilities, recording abilities, turning settings off in certain settings in public spaces).
  • Check if the other person has other social media platforms to verify their information.
  • Reverse search someone’s images through Google to make sure the photo is the person or to determine if it’s being used fraudulently.
  • Tell a friend where you are going to meet with your potential date.
  • Meet in a public space and try not to change locations.
  • Arrange a call/text check-in time with a friend to let them know you are safe.
  • Discuss consent ongoingly and clarify if there is something that is not clear.

Normalizing the conversation of cyberconsent and dismantling rooted systems of oppression by being an active change-maker is daily work we all need to engage in. It is our responsibility to create more online conversations to call people in rather than calling them out. Shaming and canceling culture are preventing individuals from assuming responsibility and engaging in a dialogue about our actions or inactions online.

Assuming that all people understand the nuances of digital boundaries could leave many individuals outside of the conversation when seeking resources. More than ever before, we need to center the voices of Black, Indigenous and racialized, and the LGBTQI+ individuals in the cyberconsent conversation. The impacts of cyberbullying and online violence are prevalent against marginalized communities.

Cyberconsent and accountability could start to become the norm if we all engage in the conversation, and start to model a life skill, and strengthen a community response where everybody becomes an active bystander to rally and show individuals impacted by technology-facilitated gender-based violence that they are not alone. Platforms need to have stricter, clearer guidelines to ensure the safety of their users. Significant and adequate accountability of service platforms (social media platforms) is pertinent. Clear policies and reporting mechanisms will help users to understand when a boundary is crossed, what are the consequences, and how the guidelines will be enforced.

It is in all of us to foster kindness, and not allow any sort of violence to happen in the online and offline world.

About the author: Paola Quiros is the Educator witth the Sexual Violence Support & Prevention Office.

Right below you can find the full webinar, A Conversation on Cyberconsent, hosted on September 30th, 2020