About a year ago, I stopped using Twitter because I was being harassed. I often write articles about feminism and, especially with GamerGate in full swing at the time, there were a lot of misogynists sending me hateful tweets.
A recent survey found that 76 percent of women under 30 years old experienced some type of online harassment and 25 percent of women in that age group have been threatened with physical violence.
HeartMob is trying to change that.
Created by Emily May, who started Hollaback! to help stop street harassment, HeartMob allows people to keep a documented report of their online harassment. But you don’t have to be alone in your plight, as other people can offer you support through kind words or by performing actions.
They launched on Jan. 27 and over 400 people have already been supported, with more than 1,300 actions taken.
I talked to May about how she came up with the idea, its overwhelming support and how trying to end harassment results in her (and her companies) being the constant target of online harassers.
Feather Magazine: How did you come up with the idea for HeartMob?
Emily May: 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.
In October 2013 I got fed up. Everyone was talking about online harassment, but few had solutions. Alongside the Hollaback! team, 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.
As a result of this thinking, we developed a concept called HeartMob. In 2014, we took on a leadership role in the online harassment movement by founding, leading and managing an extensive Online Harassment Task Force, including over 70 leaders in the field. During the development of HeartMob, the Online Harassment Task Force 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. During the summit, we used human centered design principles to test the HeartMob prototype with key journalists and organizational leaders from the Online Harassment Task Force.
You got a lot of support from your Kickstarter campaign and other groups stepped in to help. Can you tell me about that experience?
We were overwhelmed by the support during that campaign! We raised over double our goal, and got articles written about us in the Washington Post, Fast Company, Cosmo — even the New York Times editorial board gave us a shout out! It was striking to us how ready the world seemed for a solution.
Explain how HeartMob works.
HeartMob allows users to easily report their harassment and maintain complete control over their story. Once reported, users will have the option of keeping the report private and cataloguing it in case it escalates, or they can make the report public. If they choose to make it public, they will be able to choose from a menu of options on how they want bystanders to support them, take action, or intervene. They will also be given extensive resources including: safety planning, materials on how to differentiate an empty threat from a real threat, online harassment laws and details on how to report their harassment to authorities (if requested), and referrals to other organizations that can provide counseling and legal services.
Bystanders looking to provide support will receive public requests, along with chosen actions of support. You can “have someone’s back” and know that you’re helping them out in a time of need while directly contributing to safer spaces online. HeartMob staff reviews all messages and reports to ensure the platform remains safe and supportive.
Obviously, when fighting harassment, you’ll get harassed. How do handle the negative comments that come in to @HeartMobber?
We knew going into this that launching HeartMob was going to open us up to further harassment. We talked about it at length before we did it—and ultimately decided it was worth it.
It’s like if you thought you had a potential cure for cancer, would you tell anyone? Of course you would. We thought we had a potential cure for online harassment, and it felt irresponsible—even selfish—to keep it to ourselves.
The hateful and harassing comments we’ve recieved about HeartMob are no where near as numerous as the comments we get from people who are deeply grateful. They sting, to be sure, but each one is a reminder of how incredible important this work is. It’s a reminder that we’re making an impact.