This New Platform Is Tackling Online Harassment In An Unprecedented Way

This New Platform Is Tackling Online Harassment In An Unprecedented Way
Source: Kickstarter
Source: Kickstarter

The same group that helped women "holla back" at street harassers now aims to help others deal with harassment on social media. 

Hollaback! is raising money to launch HeartMob, "an online platform where people can report their harassment and engage volunteers in helping them combat it." As many as 40% of adult internet users have been harassed online, according to a recent Pew Research Center survey. Yet reporting it to police or social media platforms has proven difficult, as many users feel ignored and even discredited in the process. That's where HeartMob would step in. 

"After over 10 years of running Hollaback!, I've been harassed and attacked online repeatedly," the organization's cofounder and executive director, Emily May, told Mic in an email. "Even worse, I've seen our site leaders, partners, and friends harassed online — and I've seen incredible women leave the internet as a result. I've had enough of adapting to the problem — I'm ready to change it."

In 2014, the team took on a leadership role in an online harassment task force, which led to the first summit on online harassment in December. There, the team used human-centered design principles to test the HeartMob prototype with key journalists and organizational leaders, May said.

Shift the conversation: To comprehensively address online harassment, May said, activists must call for a cultural change — not just policy change. HeartMob does this by shifting the conversation about harassment solutions from how to best punish harassers to how to reduce trauma and empower those who experience it.

HeartMob engages bystanders by allowing volunteers to see the profiles of people they've already supported as well as view the reports of those who still need help. Platform users can read these individuals' stories and even target their support to specific aspects of harassment about which they feel most strongly. The platform does this by allowing individuals who publicly report their harassment on the platform to choose exactly what kind of help they'd like to receive — including support from volunteers, more concrete action steps or intervention — according to the platform's Kickstarter video.

This puts the focus on survivors while emboldening others to help those being attacked. Considering the Pew Research Center survey found that 73% of people generally have witnessed someone else being harassed online (a number that jumps to 92% for those aged 18 to 29), bystander intervention is clearly crucial to solving harassment.

While the Kickstarter has already earned half of its $10,000 fundraising target as of Wednesday, the overall goal is empowering those who have been harassed online to regain control of their lives while achieving true justice. By allowing people to boldly share their stories on a platform where leadership is decentralized, May told Mic, policy solutions will surely follow.

HeartMob is not just about reporting, but "about changing hearts and minds," May told Mic. "It's about people coming together to build an internet where everyone has access to free speech, not just a select few."

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Julie Zeilinger

Julie Zeilinger is a staff writer at Mic as well as the founder and editor of The FBomb (thefbomb.org), a feminist blog partnered with the Women’s Media Center. She is also the author of "A Little F’d Up: Why Feminism Is Not A Dirty Word" and "College 101: A Girl’s Guide to Freshman Year."

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