Addressing Anti-Feminist Violence Online

Too many people have regular and sustained experiences of violence, including efforts to shut down participation in work, civic engagement, and social interaction. Women and feminists have been targets for quite some time, but 2014 felt to me like a year in which the threats were particularly frequent and the injuries inflected acute.

I’m not interested in promoting hurtful actions algorithmically or otherwise, so I’m not going to name or link here – you can find examples without too much digging. I agree with Anita Sarkeesian’s observation that “online harassment, especially gendered online harassment, is an epidemic. Women are being driven out, they’re being driven offline; this isn’t just in gaming, this is happening across the board online, especially with women who participate in or work in male-dominated industries.” I’d add that anti-intellectualism takes some of its most virulent forms against not only women, but also people of color, and queer and trans people.

In addition to impacting women, the online harassment has spread to women’s defenders — so that the silencing of women has become what Ian Bogost has called a “Voldomortian” entity in which speaking about these harassment campaigns by name invites attention and similar harassment. Young adults and children who find themselves ensnared in harassment, whether through their own work or by virtue of being a woman’s child, are particularly at risk and in need of support.

Feeling uneasy and frustrated with the social climate, I reached out to colleagues in the FemTechNet network. From these conversations a set of related, but independent efforts were inaugurated including private community meetings, public discussions, curricular engagements, and some long range planning. Among which was a proposal to the DML Competition “Trust Challenge.” The fifth in an annual series of calls for proposals, this year’s challenge argues “trust, privacy, and safety are critical to learning in an open online world.”

With FTN colleagues and strong institutional support from ASU, I submitted a proposal titled “Addressing Ant-Feminist Violence Online.” We argue in the proposal “feminists are at risk and engendering trust or safety in digital spaces seems difficult at best. Nevertheless, we can help create and sustain resilient communities that can foster trust, reduce harm, and support those who identify, document, and combat harassment.” To these ends we have proposed to “curate a set of best practices, and educational content for communities responding to anti-feminist violence online.”

We plan to publish our curated collection as an open-access digital book, utilizing the Scalar platform. We’re also planning a yearlong series of events to support the creation and use of the collection. We’re hoping to build as broad-based a coalition in this endeavor as possible – engaging with industry, local and national non-profits, networked advocacy communities, and U.S. universities and colleges.

We’re delighted to have advanced to the finalist round in the challenge. You can read the proposal, comment and offer support, and vote up the project by clicking on the heart in the upper left corner. You can also contact us at AAFO@asu.edu.

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