According to a recent Pew Study, 1 in 4 women have experienced online stalking or sexual harassment. Labeled as “social justice warriors,” prominent journalists and bloggers have been harassed and threatened for writing about economic inequality, education, and racism in popular culture. The culture of fear that is being created impacts not just professionals, but more perniciously, young women and men who are developing their habits and protocols for online life. From advanced professionals to adolescents, feminists and women are at risk.
Much of this violence has been perpetrated online, but threats like these can move into offline, “real” life. In October, Sarkeesian canceled a talk at Utah State University after receiving a massacre threat inspired by the 1989 Marc Lepine murder of fourteen women. Many people, including women of color and trans people, have experienced threats, harassment, and the distribution of their location and contact information by people hoping to silence their voices. These violations of privacy and personal safety can morph into physical violence.
Harassment and threats of physical violence drive women offline. Declining numbers of women in computer science professions and degree programs is just one example of a trend that threatens to undermine efforts to reduce barriers for connected learning and digital engagement. In addressing online harassment, this project will safeguard gains made by other organizations and ensure that future efforts to overcome legal, technological, economic, and physical barriers can be sustained. We seek to ensure that women who participate in our connected culture do not have to trade physical and psychological security for access to digital resources and communities. We will be addressing not only issues of gender, but also of race, sexuality, and ability. Consequently, our resources will help with some facets of harassment that LGBT community members face as well.
Our project will develop critical resources to establish and support resilient communities that can limit harm preemptively and respond to harassment effectually when necessary. If we are to stop the flight of women from connected work, education, and entertainment then we must put into place the means to combat out of control harassment. The central focus of this proposal is the development of educational and informational resources that will enable educators and advocates to ensure that connected learning and engagement can proceed even in the face of hostility and harassment. Connected learning breaks down if feminists and women of all ages feel unsafe in digital spaces; we can’t end online harassment, but we can ensure that everyone has the tools necessary to maximize the safety of learners and their data.
We will begin with a private summit in July 2015 to develop our production agenda, assign projects, and further develop collaborative ties amongst our networks. This in-person meeting will ensure even and rapid production of materials and events across the distributed network. We include a private retreat for feminists of color in order to develop resources that acknowledge the ways in which race and gender come together to shape responses that are needed for women to have more safety and autonomy online. Structures of power and privilege organize and inform digital engagement in ways that can obliterate trust; our in person meeting is designed to ensure that we have a cohesive, coherent, intersectional, and ethical approach to addressing anti-feminist violence.
While the content will be collaboratively determined in the summit and will be team designed and produced, we do know that we want content in the following areas/of the following kinds:
- Understanding how algorithms, social sharing, and information retrieval works
- Proactive personal data management as a necessary part of digital life
- Systems for documenting & responding to threats w/minimal impact on the person experiencing the threat
- Action and safety plans in the event of a threat
- Best practices for addressing various kinds of threat
- Key terms glossary for violence online
- Existing local and national resource links
- Four video dialogues (Each dialogue will feature two discussants and a moderator and will focus on a keyword. Possible keyword topics for the videos include anti-feminist violence, racist violence, harm reduction, transformative justice, community or collective defense, digital security/privacy, and trolling)
Our content structure is inspired by the nodal structure of FemTechNet, individual and institutional users can deploy our materials to address local needs with robust support structures throughout the year. This allows us to develop a coherent national network to address harassment, while also empowering local groups to tailor their use of our educational materials. In addition, the project team represents participants from diverse geographic locations and professions, thus allowing for broad dissemination of the resources.
We plan to ensure that our digital “product” is in fact a living, constantly developing, responsive resource that will be accessible well beyond the scope of our DML Trust Challenge grant. Additionally, we will host two public online teach-ins in the second half of the year and monthly “open online office hours” to be staffed with experienced scholars and support professionals.
FemTechNet has been a leader in online and distributed education with the highly successful Distributed Online Collaborative Course (DOCC). In addition to extensive presence within accredited institutions, the DOCC includes community courses and self-directed learners who access the resources, materials, tools, and communities online. With these experiences in virtual, blended, and face-to-face classrooms, FemTechNet is uniquely situated to be able to educate and serve online feminist learning communities. We have a well-developed content structure, including high-quality video dialogues, as well as a system for holding teach-ins and open online office hours. Our distributed model of online education also facilitates peer-to-peer connections, thereby strengthening and expanding the level of communal engagement possible with this project.