Google works with Twitter to open source Harassment Manager web app

Thomson Reuters Foundation said it plans to deploy the tool for female journalists.
Written by Jonathan Greig, Contributor

Google's Jigsaw announced on Tuesday that it will open source its Harassment Manager web application which helps users document and manage online abuse targeted at them on platforms online. 

Twitter and Thomson Reuters Foundation will be some of the first organizations to use the tool. It allows users to review, sort, and export harmful comments with trusted parties, as well as mute or block perpetrators and hide replies to Tweets.

Dozens of studies have repeatedly shown that women, and especially female journalists, receive waves of threats and harassment online. Google's Jigsaw unit and the Economist Intelligence Unit released a study that showed that 70% of female journalists receive threats and harassment online, and more than 40% of those female journalists stopped reporting a story as a result.

"Harassment Manager is the result of several years of research, development, and cross-industry collaborations to deliver on our commitment to tackle online violence against women. Our goal was to concretely address the needs of prominent female public figures, like journalists, activists and politicians, who face disproportionate amounts of harassment online because of who they are or what they do -- with severe consequences for themselves and for democracy at large," said Patricia Georgiou, director of partnerships and business development at Jigsaw. 

"We're grateful for Twitter, Thomson Reuters Foundation and other organizations who have partnered with us to make this technology available. We hope that our work will help reduce the personal and collective impact of online violence on women around the world and will inspire other stakeholders to take action on this important issue."

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Georgiou told ZDNet that they developed this tool as a part of their larger commitment to harnessing the power of technology to tackle the largest threats to open societies. 

Online harassment against women in general -- and women journalists in particular -- threatens open discourse and democracy, Georgiou said, adding that this type of toxicity and harassment silences important and often marginalized voices, particularly those of journalists, activists and political figures.

Google, Facebook, TikTok, Twitter, and other tech giants committed to improving women's safety on their platforms at the UN Generation Equality Forum in Paris. The Web Foundation urged companies to create solutions to online gender-based violence and abuse. 

Jigsaw said it consulted with journalists and activists with large Twitter presences as they developed the Harassment Manager. They used the Twitter API and collaborated with NGOs like Article 19, Code for Africa, European Women's Lobby, Feminist Internet, Glitch, the International Center for Journalists (ICFJ), Online SOS, Paradigm Initiative, PEN America and Right To Be on the effort as well. 

Arielle Schwartz, director of business development for Twitter's Developer Platform, said the social media site wants to make sure everyone on Twitter has the tools they need to take control of their experience.

"Developer innovation increases the impact of the work our teams are doing to protect the public conversation by building tools that address the specific needs and preferences of people around the globe," Schwartz said. "This collaboration with Jigsaw enables NGOs and other ecosystem partners to leverage the Twitter API to build valuable tools for the communities they serve. We continue to tackle these issues collaboratively and in the open and are looking forward to seeing the innovative solutions that come from this partnership."


Thomson Reuters Foundation plans to roll out the tool for its journalists on Twitter. CEO Antonio Zappulla said technology has created new risks through online violence -- exposing journalists, particularly women, to harassment and attempts to discredit or silence them. 

"For over 30 years, the Thomson Reuters Foundation has been committed to strengthening the ecosystem for independent media around the world, leveraging our expertise in the combined power of journalism and the law to enable power to be held to account and protect civil liberties. That is why we are uniquely placed to partner with Jigsaw on this exciting project," Zappulla said. 

"I am immensely proud of the Foundation's contribution in creating a bespoke tool that can change the landscape for free, fair and accurate reporting, protect journalists from harassment -- and allow them to fulfill their mission that ultimately protects our fundamental human rights and freedoms."

Jigsaw said it plans to work with more organizations on improving the tool. Georgiou explained that once the code for Harassment Manager is open sourced, organizations and developers can use it to deploy tools that meet the specific needs of their communities.

Georgiou added that they hope to inspire other stakeholders to address the issue of targeted online harassment, given its seriousness and its impact on democracy. 

"This is a space that we'll continue working on," Georgiou said. "Feedback from partners using Harassment Manager across various communities, contexts and platforms will help us identify other areas where technology solutions could be developed."

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