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ASU project combats online threats toward women, girls

Jacqueline Wernimont
March 11, 2015

A project led by Arizona State University researchers aiming to tackle issues of online safety is one of 13 funded in the $1.2 million “Trust Challenge,” run by the Digital Media and Learning Competition.

According to a recent Pew study, one in four young women were subjects of online stalking or sexual harassment, including threats of physical violence. Some of those victimized report that the harassment changed their online behavior or made them more afraid to engage online.

The ASU project, titled “Resilience Network: Addressing Anti-Feminist Violence Online,” was submitted by Jacqueline Wernimont on behalf of FemTechNet, a feminist collaborative network which will provide core support.

“We’ve raised the alarms about the on- and offline violence that women, girls and feminists of all genders are experiencing,” said Wernimont. “This award is an opportunity to join others in combating a culture of sexism and abuse that is driving women offline and out of tech industries.”

The ASU project responds by creating an open, accessible set of tools for combating harassment. Additionally, the group will connect industry, policymakers, academics and community activists to facilitate communal response to abuse. The group will publish tools and tips in a digital format, and will host in-person and virtual events to produce and share the resources.

According to the Resilience Network project proposal: “Women, girls and feminists of all ages face specific risks online. The Resilience Network will foster trust, reduce harm and support those who combat harassment by developing a digital space that bundles open access resources, best practices and virtual events designed to maintain safe access to 21st-century skills and information.”

Alice Daer is also a part of the cooperative team that authored the grant. Wernimont and Daer are both assistant professors in the Department of English within ASU's College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

Other collaborators are Elaine Zundl from Douglass Residential College at Rutgers University; Rebecca Richards from St. Olaf College; Elizabeth Losh from the University of California, San Diego; Seda Guerses from the Information Law Institute at New York University; and Moya Bailey from Northeastern University.

Wernimont traveled to Austin, Texas to attend the South by Southwest EDU Conference, where the awards were announced on March 10.

The Trust Challenge is a response to a call to action issued in the 2014 Aspen Task Force Report "Learner at the Center of a Networked World," which sought innovations and solutions that enable people to pursue learning experiences online in an environment that is safe and private.

"The Internet and social media represent incredible opportunities to learn, but solutions to ensure youth feel safe in online spaces and are confident their online data are used in their best interest have not kept pace," said Connie Yowell, director of education at the MacArthur Foundation.

"This competition was designed to surface the most promising approaches to help foster trust amongst youth, their parents, mentors and teachers in using the online world for learning. Winning projects include tools to provide greater transparency – in a straightforward, easy-to-understand way – into who can see young people's data, [as well as] programs that foster greater civility and respect amongst users in online spaces. Trust, privacy and safety are critical to learning in an open, online world, and the winners of the Trust Challenge will help us reach this vision."

The Trust Challenge, which intends to “foster trust in online learning environments” is supported by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, and administered by HASTAC (Humanities, Arts, Science, and Technology Alliance and Collaboratory) through a grant to the University of California, Irvine.