Hollaback! Creator Wants To Take On Twitter Trolls

Photo: Courtesy Emily May.
Online harassment is a widespread issue: According to data from Pew Research, a whopping 92% of 18 to 29 year olds have experienced it. But, there are no simple, reliable resources for reporting it, or learning how to deal with it. Hollaback! founder Emily May plans to change that with her new project, HeartMob. 

HeartMob makes it so you can easily report harassment and control what happens next. You can make reports public or keep them private at first, cataloguing an instance in case things escalate further. For public reports, you can request help from others in the community. HeartMob will also offer resources like safety planning, how to identify serious threats, info about online-harassment laws, and how to report harassment to authorities or get counseling or legal services.

May's uniquely qualified to take this on. She founded Hollaback! 10 years ago to fight street harassment, and it's been massively successful; it received the Ted City 2.0 prize and the Manhattan Young Democrats “Engendering Progress” award, among other accolades. In all, it's collected over 8,000 stories of street harassment and provides resources and support including incident reporting, bystander intervention, and online movement building. 

Here's how May knew now was the right time for HeartMob, which is in its final week raising funds on Kickstarter

What first prompted you to create HeartMob?
"After over 10 years of running Hollaback!, I’ve been harassed and attacked online repeatedly. 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. I thought, Why don’t we take everything we’ve learned from addressing street harassment, and apply it to this completely different landscape: the Internet?"

How is online harassment similar to street harassment?
"Both have the same root causes (sexism, racism, and homophobia), and both have similar effects: They silence victims and cause depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder.

"We knew from addressing street harassment that the movement to end online harassment would be built similarly: People would boldly share their stories, decentralized leadership would be key — and research and policy solutions would follow."

And, how are they different? 
"There is no 'corporation' that you can appeal to, to solve the problem of street harassment, whereas with online harassment, you could appeal to the social media and technology companies that allowed online harassment to proliferate in the name of 'free speech.'

"Secondly, the role of bystanders — a promising practice in addressing street harassment — is different in online harassment. Instead of bystanders sometimes being around (as with street harassment), bystanders are always around [online]. And, if they missed something, they could fly back through time and space to address the harassment after the fact."

Where are you with HeartMob now?
"In 2014, we took on a leadership role in the online-harassment movement by founding, leading, and managing an extensive Online Harassment Task Force, which served as experts on what victims of online harassment face, and what interventions would help them feel safer and supported online. These suggested interventions formed the core of the HeartMob prototype, which began development in August 2014 and finalized in January 2014. In December 2014, we held the first summit on online harassment in NYC, where we tested the HeartMob prototype with key journalists and organizational leaders. Moving forward, we have secured a development team, a legal team, and a research team."

You can support HeartMob's Kickstarter here

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