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The Fembot Toolkit: Anonymous Contribution #1

Several years ago, feminists at our university began to experience harassment from a member of our community who had a history of violent and aggressive behavior. Although this began as face-to-face harassment, it quickly migrated to online platforms. The university was reluctant to take action because they feared a lawsuit from the harasser (and in cases of sexual violence, fear of lawsuits usually trumps the safety of those being harassed). This situation, we learned, was not unique to our institution and as we began to talk about this with feminists at other institutions, we heard stories that were remarkably similar. We never found a satisfactory solution to this problem, even though it impacted so many people, but we did learn some things from this experience that might be helpful to others.

First, do not be afraid to talk about these problems with your feminist colleagues. The secrecy with which these issues are handled puts us all at risk. In our case, we did not know that the harasser had a pattern of targeting women and queer men until someone broke the silence and connected the dots. Had we known about this pattern, and how many people were affected by this harasser, we might have been able to push collectively for a more timely and effective institutional response.

Second, if your Facebook, Twitter, or Wikipedia pages are vandalized, you should report that to campus police and Facebook, Twitter, etc. Unfortunately, in many states, police intervention is restricted to harassment as defined legally, and the law has yet to catch up with the evolution of digital technologies. We were informed by police that often the only way to address online harassment is if it occurs through cellular phone technology. If it occurs via your cell phone, it can be pursued as telephonic harassment. Much of our harassment did occur through this interface: tweets would be pushed to our Twitter app, Wikipedia notifications to our personal email, and, in some instances, phone calls from the harasser to our phone numbers and Skype accounts (also connected to a phone). Crucial to following up on these incidents were screenshots taken from phones for evidence. These screenshots were also effective when we contacted service providers and platform administrators, who are often able to ban users and even contact Internet Service Providers for breaching the terms and conditions of use.

After putting these things into action, the harassment died down for a while. The harasser still attempts to contact us from time to time, opening old wounds and reviving anxious states. But through our networks and a coordinated response, we have learned to minimize the effects this man has on our lives as we move forward.