The New Way To Fight Online Harassment

by Emma Cueto

Online harassment is a major problem — one that only seems to have intensified over recent years — and too often, victims of harassment are left without options to turn to when attacked. In an effort to change that, though Hollaback has launched HeartMob, a site designed to offer people being harassed online a way to respond. The project was announced last year — and following a fully-funded Kickstarter campaign, it has officially launched as of today.

Harassment online can take a variety of forms, ranging from things like verbal abuse, doxing, stalking, death and rape threats, and even things like swatting, which can put a victim's life in very real danger. Sustained harassment campaigns like GamerGate can truly ruin a person's life.

Despite the severity of the problem, however, options for dealing with online harassment have been limited. Although social media networks like Twitter and Facebook all have language forbidding harassment in their terms of service, responses to harassment are often lacking; blocking a perpetrator often just results in that person creating a new account and continuing their campaign of hate anyway. Meanwhile, law enforcement are often not trained how to deal with Internet crime, and frequently don't have the resources available to pursue a case.

Targets of harassment, therefore, are often left without anyone to go to for help. HeartMob hopes to change that. Because if tech companies and law enforcement aren't going to be there for us, at least we can try to be there for each other.

Emily May, co-founder and Executive Director of Hollaback!, said in a press release provided to Bustle:

We believe that you have the right to be free from harassment online. To date, the harassers have been far better organized and as a result — louder — than the voices of kindness and support. Through interviews we’ve discovered why: people want to stand up against online harassment, they just don’t know how. HeartMob fills that gap by giving voice to those who experience online harassment and tools to people who want to end it.

With HeartMob, you can report harassment, label what sort of harassment it is, and then decide how you want to address it — whether you'd like to get support from the HeartMob network, have other people intervene on your behalf, or if you just want to catalogue a record of the attack but keep it private. The platform is fully moderated to ensure that it's being used as intended and also provides resources for harassment victims, including resources on how to report attacks to law enforcement.

“With HeartMob, we are trying to see if we can impact the culture of harassment online by creating systems of accountability and support. We also know from research, that simply sharing your story of harassment online can positively impact how you view your experience and possibly help reduce trauma,” said Jill Dimond, HeartMob Lead Developer/Researcher in a press release.

It's an awesome goal, and one that has a lot of potential to help a huge number of people and maybe, just maybe, make the Internet a safer, more enjoyable place to be.

You can learn more at HeartMob's website here. And you can also find out about other awesome Hollaback projects to fight harassment offline here and here.

Image: Pixabay