Matt Schlenker (2nd from the right in above photo) is a former Hack Harassment intern and the author of this post.
I spent the summer of 2016 designing strategy for Hack Harassment’s technical solutions to online harassment. But I couldn’t stay away too long. Currently in the second year of my MBA at the University of Michigan, I was able to take a weekend off and travel to MIT for their Breaking the Mold Hackathon where I mentored a team working on solutions to online harassment. The passion the hackers had for addressing online harassment with technology was incredible to witness, it was great to be back!
The hackathon was different than I expected in that it was about conceptualization and presentation of ideas rather than building a deliverable product. A one day hackathon just isn’t enough time to build a program/app so the focus on ideas helped our team conceive something feasible, which we called the “Superfriend App.”
The concept is quite simple, but as far as I know does not currently exist. We used Facebook for our presentation yet this should work on a variety of platforms.
When a user downloads Superfriend they are prompted to pick their six best friends who then receive a notification that they have been designated a Superfriend. These superfriends receive a direct notification when a fellow superfriend is being harassed online (the original concept is that the person being harassed presses an in-app button which gives a notification to their Superfriends, but if this could somehow be tied in with our algorithm for automatic notification then all the better). This notification includes helpful tips for how to address harassment such as ways to de-escalate and links to outside resources. After a comment is left in response to the harasser, a notification message would be sent back to the superfriend thanking them.
Our logic for the app is that many people witness harassment, but few do much to respond/combat it. Designating friends to have a sense of responsibility, and then making it easier for them to intervene was appealing. Our presentation played on this idea in that we opened by asking the audience (of about 100 people) if they have witnessed someone being harassed online, to which almost every hand went up; we then asked how many people stepped in and responded to the harassment, and only a couple hands stayed raised. Additionally, we all feel good when friends come to our aid online, yet we are often too embarrassed to reach out through contacting them directly – Superfriend directly addresses this problem.
I lucked out by having a great team. We were made up by two software engineers, a lawyer, and an MBA. Mentoring the team was a wonderful learning experience. We focused on three addressable stakeholders (harasser, victim, and bystander), and then had brainstormed solutions in the context of addressing the problem in four ways (response, preparedness, recovery, or awareness). The presentation went well and we ended up winning the prize for impact! My time in Cambridge was both fulfilling and fun – thanks to Hack Harassment for making it possible for me to be there.
On Saturday, February 25th, at the MIT Media Lab, 150+ hackers with diverse expertise and backgrounds came together with mentors and experts to create tech solutions to the problems most impacting our society – one of those problems was online harassment. Read more here: http://www.mitbreakingthemold.com