If you work in social media or online advocacy you are no stranger to trolls and online harassment. We at Rad Campaign along with Lincoln Park Strategies and Craig Newmark of craigconnects recently conducted a national online poll about the rise of online harassment. We found that almost 25% of people reported that were either harassed online or knew someone who had been harassed. Even more alarming was that this figure climbed to 47% for people under the age of 35.
A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to talk with Ted Fickes at Mobilisation Labs about how harassment in the nonprofit campaigner world. We discussed how online campaigns are built around email lists, Facebook, Twitter, text messaging and phone calls and that we are reaching more people with less face to face interaction. However, is the nature of digital campaigning contributing to an environment that makes harassment possible?
I personally think the lack of face to face communications makes it easier for people to lash out and make threats against others, as people can hide behind their screens. It’s easy for someone to disconnect from the face on the other side of the screen, and cultivate a means of dehumanizing someone since they’re “only speaking to a screen.” This is also where the mob mentality comes in, which is more easily formed online than offline.
So how do we create safer campaign spaces online? I think the biggest piece to address is the cultural piece. Creating and sustaining a culture where people respect women and people of different faiths, political beliefs, gender identities, and sexual orientations, etc. is going to take a long time. There are a lot of awful stereotypes that have impacted our culture that need to be dismantled.
However, there are other things that we can explore that are more immediate steps. One of the things that I’m interested in talking with the panel about is what the online gaming community is doing. When League of Legends players faced online harassment, they had people from their own community voluntarily “police” the community to report and address the harassment. People were able to issue email warnings and ban users. When staff audited the community warnings and bans, they found that 80% of the reports were credible. They also focused on working with the game users who were censured or banned to get back into the game. Many said that they did not realize how offensive they were until another user pointed it out. Other online gaming communities have tested creating a code of conduct that people must agree to.
What other ideas do you have for nonprofit campaigners fighting online harassment?