HeartMob Battles Online Harassment With Real-Time Support And By Empowering Bystanders

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Twitter recently banned harassing and violent language, such as direct threats and tweets promoting violence toward others. The company’s expanded policy is part of a growing recognition of online harassment issues, and the significant negative effects felt by victims (ex. Zelda Williams). Now, a platform providing real-time support to individuals experiencing online harassment, and empowering bystanders to act, hopes to head off online harassment, notes the Washington Post.heartmob logo

Eighteen months in the making, HeartMob is currently overfunding on Kickstarter, with $14,020 pledged of its $10,000 goal, from 428 backers. The company is a project of Hollaback, an organization that fights street harassment, and was co-founded by CEO Emily May. May compares real-world and online harassment, noting that,

Street harassment is sexual harassment in a public space…Online harassment is sexual harassment in a public space.

Here’s how HeartMob works, according to its Kickstarter campaign page:

emily may hollabackHeartMob allows users to easily report their harassment and maintain complete control over their story. Once reported, users will have the option of keeping their 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.

hollabackAnd here’s how bystanders can help:

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 will review all messages and reports to ensure the platform remains safe and supportive.

May says,

Knight-Foundation-IMGWe hope to engage people who may be nice in real life, but haven’t thought about the fact that the person they’re harassing [online] is actually a person…. It’s also about educating the harasser on what’s okay. When you say “I’m gonna rape you,” you may think you’re saying, “I don’t like your ideas.” But what I hear is that I can’t leave my house.

With three days left in the Kickstarter campaign, HeartMob is pursuing pledges from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation of up to $10,000 if the group can get 1,000 contributors. The Washington Post also notes that the crowdfunding site Catapult has pledge to match funds if the campaign raises another $2,500.

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