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Building Relationships to Build the Center for Solutions to Online Violence

Building Relationships to Build the Center for Solutions to Online Violence

The Center for Solutions to Online Violence functions as a distributed network of scholars, media makers, and activists committed to supporting women and girls in digital cultures. In some instances this involves offering education on best practices regarding security and privacy and in others it means intervening in situations where trust has broken down and people are in need of urgent help.

In our initial vision, developed at our 2015 summit, this entailed creating working groups focused on four areas:

  1. Rapid Response,
  2. Histories of Trust-building/Support Networks,
  3. Curriculum, and Professional and
  4. Social Media Sharing.

For each group we had planned to develop informational content, pedagogical materials, and provide resources.

A major topic of our summit was the many violences that women of color in particular experience through appropriation at the hands of not just “trolls” but also journalists and academics. Accordingly, we are developing of materials designed to train not only youth about appropriation but also professionals who are studying and reporting on online experiences. This reality – that even “allies” can and do cause harm – has not only shaped our content development, but also our working relationships.

The collective of feminists gathered in the summer of 2015 each were and remain committed to reducing violence against women and girls in our digital cultures – many of them have been doing this work as intersectional feminists in various communities for decades. Our meeting took place at a particular historical moment (as all gatherings do) and the emotions in our gathering were strong and raw. We were all acutely aware of the threats faced by trans and black people in the U.S., but for some of us these issues literally hit home. For others the actions of #gamergate like doxing, threats of violence, and social media harassment were literally a part of our everyday experience. It was an incredibly difficult moment in which to begin the work of engendering trust amongst our network and we had a number of people choose to not participate further or to not participate in particular ways going forward. We learned that the work of building trust in connected environments begins within and amongst our own communities. We continue to do that work even as we move forward on helping others understand what “trust” might mean in our highly networked cultures.

One way that we’ve responded to the challenges of building trust amongst and across communities that have been subject to long standing violences and exclusions is to broaden our network even further. We have been developing partnership relationships with the following organizations: Tactical Technology Collective; Women, Action, and the Media; and the Berkman Center at Harvard. This enables us to see a much greater range of experiences with online communities as well as to amplify and further extend the visibility of the exceptional work that these groups have been producing. This has included what is known as the “Digital Alchemy” group, a subgroup from the summit, working with Data and Society Research Institute to develop a new power wheel around social media abuses that is based on the very popular wheel used in domestic violence advocacy.

Following on conversations at our interim meeting in Irvine, we are also further developing relationships with Women, Action, Media, led by Jamia Wilson and the Women's Media Center's newly launched Speech Project directed by Ashley Judd and Soraya Chemaly. Both of these groups have extensive experience working to build inclusive digital and public communities. Additionally, we were excited to learn about the progress of the Berkman Center’s work on the Digital Literacy Toolkit and will be reaching out to see where our resources may intersect with theirs.

The work of building trust happens at a variety of levels, but it is fundamentally about human relationships. Not only is there not a tool that we can build to enact or create trust, there isn’t a quick path to trust amongst people who are always entangled and enmeshed in long histories that have oppressed and harmed many in our communities. Part of what CSOV is learning and sharing is that building trust is something more like artisanal or historical arts and manufacture than it is about modern start up culture. We may iterate on our designs but it is always in the service of responding to the needs of our communities and that requires that we build and rebuild relationships amongst one another.




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