Sexual Harassment on Google Plus

Neon sign spelling, Google

Author Kimberly Chapman has published an excellent post on sexual harassment on Google+, with practical suggestions on how Google+ can be made a safer place for women to post. Kimberley mentions that much abuse follows women who make the What’s Hot list on Google. Without addressing this and the other issues raised in Kimberley’s post, Google+ is effectively discouraging women from writing insightful contributions.

There are other forms of racial and religious discrimination that occurs on Google+ because it’s difficult to block people effectively. 

One of the things I love about Google+ is the room to write longer, critical posts that other social media don’t facilitate. Other platforms have dragged their feet on addressing sexual harassment, most recently Twitter who responded to wide backlash with a fairly weak commitment. I hope Google+ will prove itself to be a leader here as it has in other respects.

I have seen evidence of Google+ responding relatively quickly to user feedback on technical issues, particularly with communities. I hope the same swift innovation occurs here. 

Chapman writes:

‘Because blocking does not work.  Not only is there nothing stopping the jerk from making more and more accounts, but it also does nothing to help the next victim, and the next, and the next.  And short of screencapping and then sharing amongst your friends, along with the profile link of the perpetrator, there’s no real easy way to spread the word to everyone you care about that this person is a problem…

This attitude that blocking is “mean” or “censorship” or “a witch hunt” has got to go, especially if G+ is also going to have staff tell people who are receiving actual rape threats in a potentially criminally chargeable way to “just block”.  We should, as microcommunities within G+, be able to choose to shun en masse as desired… 

Google exists as an aggregator of data.  There’s no excuse for why you can predict my search terms with disturbing accuracy but can’t figure out that someone posting constant sexual harassment needs to go.’

Here’s what I take from Chapman’s suggestions, in brief (read her post for the full details):

  1. Better blocking: make it faster, more intuitive, and easier. Options to block do not appear readily (see Chapman’s screengrab below) and you are forced to go to the troll’s page to block them. Google+ and other social media push out our +1s and likes when we interact with posts. The same should happen when we block abusers, so our networks see the alert. It helps expose serial offenders. 
  2. Effective reporting with impact: Serial harassers are blocked by multiple people but they are allowed to keep posting and creating new accounts. G+ policies on this are unclear and need public clarification.
  3. Better training for staff: A Google+ staffer publicly told a G+ member who was being threatened with rape by commenters that they should simply block them. This is victim-blaming. G+ members, especially women, eventually get fed up and leave, but harassers stay protected. Staff would benefit from anti-harassment training to ensure they don’t repeat damaging values that facilitate violence online.
  4. Private profile photos: Women are being targeted by strangers based on our photos, which harassers can download. We should be able to lock our images for our privacy.
  5. Improved user controls: There is currently no way to stop random messages of harassment except to lock posts, which means all of our followers are prohibited from posting. Useful features would include: temporary bans, locking random invites to hangouts and communities (anyone can invite you into a private chat out of the blue), stopping people who aren’t in your circles from interacting with our posts, and opt-out function from What’s Hot.

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