Baltimore, crabcakes and social media

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Organizations respond differently to online hate speech both on and offline

Baltimore hosts this year’s National Sexual Assault Conference (NSAC), an annual gathering of practitioners, researchers and allies in the movement to end sexual assault.  This marks the third NSAC I attend, the first where I co-present with two wonderfully curious and thoughtful colleagues, Jessica Renee Napier and Chad Sniffen.  On the afternoon of Wednesday, September 14, Jessica, Chad and I will co-facilitate a discussion addressing “Online Hate Speech: A Community-Driven Response to Online Violence.”

Much of the work in which we engage as well as that of our colleagues serves to not only validate, ameliorate and give voice to the pain and trauma experienced by survivors through innovative and evidence-based interventions, but also to curb and ultimately end violence through community-based prevention efforts that seek to deconstruct and challenge social norms surrounding gender identity, sexuality and human rights.  While working with rape crisis centers across California and college/university campuses in the United States, Guam and Puerto Rico, my colleagues and I noticed a glaring omission in our practice of response and prevention: organizations lack policies that help to deter hate speech in online communities.  Despite having online comment moderatio policies, many organizations and/or social media spaces fail to keep their users, members or constituencies accountable for their language.  The aim of our workshop is to foster an environment where participants will not only discuss online hate speech, but to also develop strategies of how agencies can improve their organizational response to online hate speech.

While researching online spaces and organizations in the anti-sexual violence field, I came across two creative sites.  The Microaggressions Project: Notes on Power, Privilege and Everyday Life “documents the ways in which power and privilege of social identities is exerted and enforced–often unknowingly–in everyday comments,” as co-founder David Zhou noted in a recent interview with Ms. blog.  What is a microaggression? Chester M. Pierce defined the term as “intentional or unintentional verbal, behavioral or environmental indignities that communicate hostile, derogatory or negative slights and insults.”

As an avid tumblr blogger (and follower), I felt a sense of relief and validation after stumbling upon the Microaggressions blog earlier this year.  The blog serves as an online space where people across identities can share their pain and signal to others how power and privilege impacts people in myriad, subtle ways.  As a social worker interested in language as a powerful means of communicating and exerting identity and power, I find the Microaggressions Project to be a fascinating collection of individuals articulating their shared experiences with systemic violence.  Similarly, the Microprogressions Project is a tumblr blog that encourages people to share experiences of affirmations surrounding social identities.

Both sites serve crucial roles in documenting experiences from a first-person narrative that attest to the systemic oppression of marginalized communities.  One question that arises after visiting these sites for some time: how do we translate our shared experiences into our offline expressions/identities seeking inclusive change?  How do we measure change – because we know it is happening in small increments?  Are you familiar with similar online efforts in other languages or conveyed using different approaches?  If so, we would like to know more!

Livia Rojas, MSSW, is the Training and Resource Coordinator in the Campus Program at the California Coalition Against Sexual Assault (CALCASA) where she provides training and technical assistance to recipients of the Department of Justice (DOJ), Office on Violence Against Women (OVW) Grant to Reduce Domestic Violence, Dating Violence, Sexual Assault and Stalking on college and university campuses across the United States and territories. Livia has eleven years of working to advance human rights and student organizing through practice and research.

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