Society Magazine

Why These Activists Created A Guide To Fighting Online Harassment

Posted on the 23 December 2015 by Juliez
Why These Activists Created A Guide To Fighting Online Harassment

Far too many women experience online harassment.

Though plenty have tried to minimize the experience for years, online harassment is a serious issue and blatant evidence of persistent sexism. It’s widespread one, too: 25% of young women online have been sexually harassed and 26% have experienced stalking on the internet, according to a recent Pew study and another study found that 70% of the people who reported severe online harassment between 2000 and 2013 were women. Now more than ever, though, courageous women are speaking out about their experiences and trying to put an end to this problem once and for all — including women like activists Anita Sarkeesian, Renee Bracey Sherman, and Jaclyn Friedman. This trio recently contributed to the movement by teaming up to create “Speak Up & Stay Safe(r): A Guide To Protecting Yourself From Online Harassment.“ Here’s how this guide was created and why it’s existence is so important, according to co-creator Jaclyn Friedman. 1. Can you describe how this project was conceived? How did you team up with Anita and Renee? Anita and I were in a meeting together last summer, talking about strategies to address online harassment, and we started talking about how great it would be if a guide like this had been available when we first were targeted, and so we started to talk about making one. At about the same time, Renee reached out to me to say she had been thinking about making a guide, and wondered if I might want to work on it with her. I got the three of us together, and we took it from there. 2. How did you determine the guide’s structure and what information to include? How did you eventually arrive at this final model? First we each wrote down everything we knew, and compiled all of that into one document. From there we could sort out what the main themes were, and what areas we knew were missing. For those, we reached out to experts we knew and to people they recommended, tracking the issue down until we felt like we had good answers. Once we felt like the guide was relatively complete, we asked some trusted colleagues to read it and give feedback, which was so, so valuable. So we spent some time integrating that, and tracking down a new set of questions. As we were finalizing the text, Anita set to work with her team of designers to come up with a navigation system that would make the content really easy to navigate, especially for the users coming to our guide who might be in an active state of trauma. Once we had it laid out, we tested it again with another group of trusted colleagues, and integrated that feedback. So it was very collaborative every step of the way. This guide represents the work and wisdom of many dozens of people, and we’re so grateful to them.

3. What do you think are the biggest misconceptions about online harassment?

That’s it’s not “real” because the harassers use digital tools. That targets are just complaining about people being mean or disagreeing with them. That if you “don’t feed the trolls” it will all go away.

4. What do you hope this guide will accomplish? Is this a first step towards a bigger goal? 

It’s definitely not a first step — all three of us are engaged in ongoing work to counteract online harassment, as are many other people around the world. This is just one small but important piece of the puzzle. Our goal for the guide is to help the people most likely to be targeted – women, people of color, queer and trans people and other oppressed and marginalized people – not feel like speaking up online is too big of a risk. We need their voices and their work and their art and their stories. We want them to be able to speak up and stay safer. We want to give everyone the guide we wish we had when we were first targeted. 5. If you could imagine an ideal online experience for women, what would it be like? What are the biggest things that have to change? The ideal experience would just be to be able to interact online without being threatened or harassed! It’s pretty simple, but we’re a long way from there, because the tech companies that profit from our participation haven’t made it a priority to solve it. That’s no accident – those companies are largely owned and run by white men, who just don’t experience the same kind of online harassment that we do. Think about the incredible innovation created by these tech companies. If they wanted to innovate effective solutions that promoted free speech and blunted online harassment, they absolutely could. They just haven’t chosen to invest the resources.

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