Forays in creating a healthier online ecosystem

Originally posted on the Aspiration blog

Weaponized Social is an emerging program that seeks to support a healthier online ecosystem. Since our last gathering in New York, we’ve been to Nairobi on May 2nd, hosted WeapSoc SF in our office home in San Francisco, and facilitated a highly relevant event, the International Workshop on Misogyny and the Internet in MY home base of Cambridge, MA. We’ve continued to build out the Weaponized Social Wiki with notes from conversations, projects, and possibilities.

Weaponized Social in Nairobi

In Nairobi at AkiraChix, we further refined the checklist for making safe space and started two projects: FaceOff and Trolling the Trolls. FaceOff provides space for highly visible people to interact in a nuanced way, posting back to short-form spaces, so as to ask their constituents to be better balanced. This is a response to the very real occurrences of politicians calling their online followers to take action (sometimes violent) in offline space. Trolling the Trolls seeks to use language patterns from sock puppet accounts to find those accounts sooner, and respond to them before they have a negative impact on the speech of marginalized individuals online. Yvonne, who suggested this, also introduced me to ZeroTrollerance which was then represented by Peng! Collective.

San Francisco’s attendees on May 16th and 17th at the SF Nonprofit Tech Center were highly influenced by the book Thinking, Fast and Slow, which explores the two systems we have for thinking: one which is based on intuition (and assumption) and on which we most often depend, and one which is based in logic and analysis which comes with a cost to use.

Often, when in difficult exchanges online, we default into the intuitive to protect ourselves. This prevents us from reaching any different understanding of an encounter than what we came to it with. To cope with this, we devised the Introspection Bot, to help you break from whatever mental rut you’re in and consider the wider picture. We also developed the idea of redirecting dog piles of outrage into actual long-term efforts to address systemic problems. We performed some heavy lifting around dissecting what aspects of sociality go into platforms, including privacy control and friend count, which we offered to the Center for Civic Media’s Uncomfortable Networks.

One major difference in perspective between these two events was that freedom of expression is so enthusiastically valued in both the American and internet freedom circles I run in, but in Kenya, just as in other places, concern over hate speech inciting violence is very real. This tension is difficult to navigate both in everyday life and in the microcosm of a session. This is one reason why I was so thrilled when Aspiration was asked to facilitate the Berkman Center’s International Workshop on Internet and Society (IWoMI). Here, there was an international crowd committed to understanding and preventing misogyny (a bit more specific than Weaponized Social events, but focus can be a good thing!) online and off.

We made explicit space for, though still struggled to ingrain, non-Western perspectives in our conversations, including with one conversation about reporting abuse on platforms. A number of memorable things took place:

I continue to be honored and thrilled at the vast amount of brain power and heart the powerhouses of human beings involved in this movement are extending to solve these problems. To have such an international, intergenerational, and human-rights-supportive group set on making the internet a healthy place gives me hope we might even make it happen.

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