“Trust” is a tricky word and like all ideas it is situated. As the DML competition notes, communities are the ones who define ‘trust.’ In the case of the many communities we served in this grant, trust was a boundary object – a thing that sometimes lay between us facilitating interaction for some and limiting engagement for others.
Our work addressing anti-feminist violence online has always been focused on understanding and addressing the challenges that women and girls face in participating in digital cultures. What we came to understand more clearly in the course of this work is that those challenges are different for different communities. The kinds of violences experienced by white female academics, for example, are not the same as those of our Black and Latina female academic colleagues. Additionally and perhaps more importantly, they are not the same as the violences experienced by the women of color and/or trans-women and men who are creating new media content every day, which is shaping our national discourse for the better.
We learned early on that we could not assume trust even amongst our own gathered group. White feminist academics had to see and hear the social media creators, the advocates, and activists; we had to hear that the needs of those in privileged positions are not universal. We had to hear that trust online is deeply entwined with trust “in real life” or face-to-face and we had to hear that such trust was not a given.
The systems and infrastructures needed to do this work are both fugitive (following Stefano Harvey and Fred Moten) and imaginary – they are informal networks that need to remain offline in order to protect communities and they are institutional systems that meet people where they are at. We struggled with the gap between our goals and commitments and what institutional mechanisms will allow. We ran up against the un-caring bureaucracy of large institutions and identify verification paradigms. We struggled to pay those who had changed identities to deal with abuse and violence. We struggled to ensure that paperwork and procedures could be transparent. This is a real challenge when the presence of verification procedures and formalized paperwork causes stress, anxiety, and even pain for those in our communities. It wasn’t enough to “be thoughtful with data,” we had to become aware of the ways that even gathering “data” might threaten to dissolve trust.
Our data is the work of our stakeholders – women and feminists who created content to help those in need. It appears in the form of links, resources, best practice guides and “how to” demos. It includes a graphic novel, Paths, by Mikki Kendall on cyberbulling.
CSOV also facilitated the creation of an innovative new “Power and Control Wheel” by the Digital Alchemists that helps educate people about online violences.
We drew from our internal networks and reached out to partners in advocacy at Women, Action, and Media and the Women’s Media Center. We shared our work with and learned from collaborators at Take Back the Tech, HollaBack, Trollbusters, Tactical Technology Collective and more. We incorporated user feedback through a two month long “soft launch” of our site. We continue this work still.
We protect our communities by letting them choose how and when to engage and on what terms. Some members of our team have contributed silently to prevent new harm, others have worked in teams to help create authority and a sheltering community. We have proactively asked people who use our content to credit it and link back and have made clear why appropriation would constitute a violation of our collective and individual rights. We have held secure teach-in and “kitchen table” dialog events to share our work, receive feedback, and imagine new avenues to pursue.
The Center for Solutions to Online Violence is both a digital resource space, hosted in perpetuity by FemTechNet, and a community of people working to address the ever-evolving risks faced by women and feminists online. Going forward, the project will be co-facilitated by T.L. Cowan and Moya Bailey, who have been essential to the work this year. They, in turn, are supported by a committee of volunteers and the broader FemTechNet network. In the coming year, CSOV will continue to connect survivors of online violence to resources and communities who can help. It will also continue the hard work of making visible the violences that women of color, queer and trans-creators, and other marginalized communities experience – too often at the hands of those who purport to want to help. Trust is partially about understanding the risks that others face and demonstrating that you are willing to address those risks before doing any additional work. This is the foundation of the Center for Solutions to Online Violence