by Leanna Garfield, Tech Insider
Mar. 12, 2016
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Brianna Wu and Amanda Warner, founders of Giant Spacekat.
When a stranger on the Internet threatened to kill and rape software developer Brianna Wu and tweeted her home address, she fled her home in fear.
This was in 2014 during the beginning of Gamergate, a bizarre ongoing movement created by men who want to keep women out of gaming. Wu tweeted memes mocking Gamergate, and they didn't like that.
"A year and a half later, and still no one has gone to jail," Wu tells Tech Insider.
Death and rape threats have terrorized women online since, well, the beginning of the Internet. And it's not improving — Wu still constantly deals with threatening trolls.
"Tech companies are blind to this," says Wu, who is also the co-founder of Giant Spacekat, a company that makes games with female protagonists.
Giant Spacekat co-founder Brianna Wu in her office, fed up with online harassment.
There has been much discussion about how to eradicate online harassment, but tech companies are slow to implement concrete policy changes, she says.
To help speed up that process, Wu created a set of proposals for companies like Google, Facebook, Twitter, and Reddit. On Saturday, Wu presented it in Austin, Texas on March 11th at SXSW's inaugural harassment summit, a day of talks aimed at fighting online threats.
To compile the proposals, Wu partnered with professors from Harvard, the International Women's Media Foundation, and the social services agency Digital Sisters, which she calls "a pow-wow of high-level feminists."
They have asked social media and tech companies to address the following and make changes to their existing terms of service:
Racist and sexist speech is far too common social media.
Wu points to YouTube's terms of service, which she believes don't do enough to remove hate speech in the comments. There are still YouTube videos that attempt to defame her, she says.
"They [Gamergate supporters] have people who spend all day manipulating SEO to damage me and other high-profile women," she says.
Google has had a reporting tool in place since 2010. But the harassment must meet the company's "harassment threshold," which Wu says is too low.
"Google makes money because people like to click on that dirt," she says.
And as Kara Swisher notes on Re/code, it's easy to mask online harassment as free speech.
"Free speech is not as free as all that in the real world, where there are numerous social repercussions for behaving in a rude, obscene and appalling manner," she writes. "Not so on the Internet, where such talk is all too common and much too tolerated."
Wu gives two common examples of unacceptable images: revenge porn and images photoshopped to show users or their family members being lynched.
"These should be considered a red flags for harassment," she says.
Women are harassed online more than men, often due to their political and religious beliefs.
Women are targeted more often than men online, Wu says.
"I have a lot of female friends who won't go on Twitter, even when it's a vital part of their job," she says.
Data backs this up. As noted by Time, a staggering 70% of those harassed online are women, according to Justice Department records.
If women speak out against online misogyny, they become even bigger targets, Wu says. The solution lies in more stream-lined reporting tools.
Women of color and transgender women face worse online harassment than other users.
Online violence is disproportionately targeted toward these two groups, but there hasn't been much research to show that, Wu says.
The feminist nonprofit WAM! is working to collect data on harassment complaints and send them to social media companies. But Wu says the nonprofit needs more financial backing from social media platforms.
"Ultimately, their [WOC and transgender women's] lives are at risk, and every tech company should be actively trying to change that," she says.
The panel asked that tech companies work with Giant Spacekat and Digital Sisters to form solutions and measurable benchmarks. They recommended better tools to report harassers and a system to ban those users.
Wu also hopes the tech companies agree to internal reviews by a third party agency, which she estimates would cost between $150,000 and $200,000.
"It's time to put resources into that," she says. "I don't expect to get everything we're looking for, but we need tech companies to start talking to us."
It mainly comes down to tech companies taking these issues seriously, Wu adds.
"Without that, nothing is going to change," she says.