From Gender and Tech Resources
- 1 What are Safe Spaces?
- 2 Safe Space Online?
- 3 How to set up a Safe Space Mailing list
- 4 What is an etherpad?
- 5 What is Internet Relay Chat (IRC)?
- 6 Tools for managing projects and groups: wikis, forums and Crabgrass
- 7 Strategies for creating safe spaces in the public sphere
- 7.1 Feminist Counterspeech
- 7.1.1 Wikipedia?
- 7.1.2 Wikistorming
- 7.1.3 How to organise a Wikistorming
- 7.1.4 Installing Bots Against Trolls And Swarming Together
- 7.1.5 What is a troll?
- 7.1.6 How should you deal with trolls?
- 7.1.7 Swarming
- 7.1.8 Do I have to use my own account?
- 7.1.9 Automation
- 7.1.10 What's a bot?
- 7.1.11 How can a bot battle a troll?
- 7.1.12 Things to watch out for
- 7.1.13 Evading Twitter's spam filters
- 7.1.14 How to set up a Twitter account to be used as a bot
- 7.2 Dos and dont's supporting people subject to online violence
- 7.3 What are some of the current platforms which document online violence?
- 7.1 Feminist Counterspeech
- 8 Building our safe spaces offline
- 8.1 How do you create a safe space?
- 8.2 Women and trans* only?
- 8.3 What are you trying to do?
- 8.4 Choosing a format that fits
- 8.5 Codes of conduct
- 8.6 Respecting Privacy
- 8.7 Case Studies
- 8.8 What is a Feminist Hackerspace?
- 8.9 Which Criteria Do I Use to Assess Whether a Space is Safe or Not?
What are Safe Spaces?
Safe spaces can be understood as spaces that are created to share common values, whether explicit, through a community agreement, or implicit through the sharing of values. They enable members of a group to flourish, empower themselves and create community. Safe spaces have provided a safe environment for discussion and awareness raising in the women's liberation movement in the 60s and 70s. Safe spaces are also about pushing boundaries and confronting certain difficult issues among a group of people such as: Who can be part of a women's only group? And who can be defined as a woman? As these are important questions to be addressed, they need reflection, trust and the understanding of where our own assumptions come from.
Safe space strategies have been used in many different contexts in recent times too. In Tahrir Square in Egypt, Operation Anti Sexual Harassment (OpAntiSH) was set up to react to an unsafe environment and as a way to protect women and/or confront harassers and support survivors of sexual abuse and harassment. In Kenya, the women-only Umoja village was created for women survivors of rape and sexual assaults, as a place where they could feel safe and secure, raise their kids, earn a living collectively, heal and reclaim their dignity. During the USA Occupy movements many women, queer and trans* persons did not feel safe to camp in the squares and parks. Some resorted to women-only tents, or women of colour-only affinity groups while others, mostly transwomen, opted for an online presence as putting their bodies on the line was deemed too dangerous.
Safe Space Online?
The internet is experienced by many as a safe space for resisting the gender oppression that they encounter in their everyday life. Fereshteh Nouraie-Simone talks about the internet as Wings of Freedom for Iranian women. Scholar Saskia Sassen argues that the internet allows women and trans* persons to be involved in new forms of contestations, build global community and potentially transform conditions on the ground. However, at the same time many women and trans* people experience severe forms of violence and silencing online. There are countless stories now of women and trans* people facing harassment, threats and smear campaigns by anyone from a misogynist or transphobic reader of their blog to a state-sponsored attacker trying to hinder their advocacy work. See Take Back the Tech for an up-to-date list of reports.
Morever, we might assume that online communities such as the ones we take part in through social media, email discussion lists, phones and Internet Relay Chat (IRC) channels are inherently democratic, horizontal, participatory and relatively safe. This is not true. Online spaces often reproduce hierarchies, privileges and power relations that exist in society. We need to be mindful of this and to think through ways to mitigate and limit these downsides to get the best out of our spaces. Using such strategies is about caring for ourselves and for the communities we are part of. Making these issues explicit and visible is also about agency, social justice and feminism, and it will help better shape the spaces we care about, we organize in and in which we grow.
This step aims to provide concrete suggestions on how to create safe spaces online and offline. It is divided into three core parts. First, a set of tools will be highlighted to move forward with starting to build safe spaces for us and our collectives/organizations through online communication such as mailing lists, pads, Internet Relay Chat (IRC), etc. Second, it will focus on strategies of resistance in public spaces which are not inherently safe, such as Twitter and Wikipedia. Finally it will loop back to the offline and discuss ways to build safe spaces offline such as through women and trans* only spaces to learn and Do-it-Together.
How to set up a Safe Space Mailing list
Mailing lists are one of the oldest forms of social networks. They allow you to discuss, organise, share information, exchange video, audio and pictures. The below section will help you in the steps to setting up a safe space mailing list.
Choosing a mailing list
You have decided that you need a communication channel for your collective and you do not want to use corporate services. There are in fact many alternative services to choose from that are recommended for use by human rights defenders. They are free but they still prioritise security and user privacy. For example: Riseup, Aktivix or Autistici/Inventati (A/I Collective).
Riseup is a tech collective which provides secure communication tools for people working on liberatory social change. They have many feminist and queer oriented lists and therefore are a great collective to host your mailing list. To see some of the existing public mailing lists go to: https://lists.riseup.net/www/ .
Other tech collectives also offer mailing-lists and email addresses. Autistici/Inventati (A/I Collective) and Aktivix are two other great examples, and the former also offers a dedicated newsletter service for groups that want to send regular news to a high number of recipients. To read about their services visit: http://www.autistici.org/en/services/lists.html and/or https://lists.aktivix.org/mailman/listinfo
Open or closed list?
Once you are ready to create your mailing list you need to decide whether it will be an open or closed list. An open list allows anyone to subscribe and participate in the discussion. A closed list is limited to the subscribed email addresses that will have been approved by you or your collective. In deciding what is best, check if choosing to keep a list open to new subscriptions automatically implies that the archives of the list are available to anyone on the web and will eventually end up on search engines (such as Google). In some cases, the archives of a closed list are only accessible to those who have the subscription password while the archives of a closed list can be accessed by everybody. In other cases, as A/I's platform (which is unfortunately much more complex to use) you can choose whether you keep the archives public or not independently of your choice to keep your list open to new subscriptions. If you intend to talk about sensitive issues (talking about feminism is often a sensitive issue!) or if trust within the group is important for creating your safe space, you might want to set up a closed list and to keep your archives closed. If you do choose to leave your archives accessible, it is important to inform everyone subscribed to the list that any delicate topic or personal detail that pops up in your discussions will be potentially visible to anybody.
Publicizing your list or keeping it secret?
A list becomes really public when it is advertised to the world and anyone can request subscription. For example the mailing list run by FemTechNet. But a list mustn't be necessarily publicized and can be run on a need-to-know basis. In other words, you can choose not to advertise your list publicly and to keep it invitation-only. You could have for instance a publicized list which is closed i.e. a list that people know about (literally everyone!), but which requires approval as mentioned above.
Who should I invite?
Once you have your list set up, start inviting people you know to your mailing list. If friends are suggesting to add more people to the list, ask them to explain to the list the reasons why such and such person should be added. If you get a green light from your collective, add this person to your mailing list. Working through the web of trust is a good practice to follow when setting up a mailing list. Also, make sure you have a discussion on who can be part of this list. If you set up a feminist list, who can be part of this list? Do you for instance allow feminist men to be part of the list? If so, will you be setting up a policy for your list on the acceptable behavior? (See below for how to set up a policy) These are important questions that you need to discuss with your group. But don’t be too harsh on yourself and your group and know that you can always revisit these decisions if at some point you and your collective feel you want to change your collective mailing list agreement.
Who will administer the list?
Administering the list involves handling subscriptions and moderating content. One person can be responsible for doing it but if your list suddenly becomes very chatty, this might be too demanding for just one person to do. You can also choose to have more than one administrator of the list. A list can even be collectively managed. As a case in point, the Spoon Collective, a discussion list active in the 90s, adopted a strategy of central collective "ownership". Everyone on the list had administration rights and so the responsibility of managing the list could be shared amongst members. This is a strategy that can be best used when you are part of a close collective. It also requires trust that all members will care enough to manage it collectively.
Before trying to figure out what best suits you, you should think about internet access and expectations from list members. Depending on where you are located, some people on the list might not have regular access to the internet and this needs to be factored in when taking the decision. Some tensions will inevitably arise from the collective administering process and therefore you and your collective need to think carefully about the ways in which you will handle these tensions. Are we ready to wait for a few days to have new members added to the list? If each message needs admin approval, are we ready to accept waiting for the message to be approved for a few days, a week, more? Since administering a list is a great way to learn, is it only those who are tech savvy that might manage it or should we rather allow for learning to happen? If your expectations are clear, the possibility for tensions and conflicts to emerge will be minimized.
Mailing list policies
Agreeing on a mailing list policy from the start will save you a lot of time and difficult conversations. Publishing your policy and the ways in which to report violations of the policy, even if it is a closed list, might be helpful in creating the online safe space you want everyone to enjoy. The policy can provide guidelines for everyone using the list, on how to behave. It can address tensions like the fact that expression of emotion is an important feminist principle, but losing your temper and attacking someone you don't agree with on the list is not ok.
Having a visible and explicit policy will send a strong signal of the value of creating a safe space on a mailing list. The geekfeminism wiki is a great example of a women-only policy for online communities (http://geekfeminism.wikia.com/wiki/Statement_of_purpose/Women-only_communities). They also have a similar policy or agreement for online communities that includes men: http://geekfeminism.wikia.com/wiki/Statement_of_purpose:_communities_including_men Check them out and adapt them to your needs, beliefs and desires.
To make sure that the policy does not get forgotten, you can regularly remind the subscribers. The Ada Initiative (https://adainitiative.org/) mailing list, for example, adds a link to each email sent on the list. Below is what you see:
Policies for behavior on this list: http://geekfeminism.wikia.com/wiki/Statement_of_purpose/Women-only_communities http://sf.adacamp.org/attendee-information/policies/#ahp Contact Adacampfirstname.lastname@example.org to report violations Please avoid gendered assumptions and language about the list as a whole (eg "XX", "ovaries", "ladies") To unsubscribe, go to: http://lists.adainitiative.org/listinfo.cgi/adacamp-alumni-adainitiative.org
Encrypting mailing lists
If you want a high level of security, there is the possibility of encrypting mailing lists. However, it is important to understand that this requires every participants to the list to already use PGP (Pretty Good Privacy)/GPG. This type of list, based on a software named Schleuder and developed by the German Tech Collective Nadir.org, is designed to serve as a tool for group communication, but this time with a strong emphasis on security. Schleuder list is a GPG-enabled mailing list and the list takes care of all de- and encryption among others. If you and your group feel you are able to install software in a server or can ask help from your community and you are all ready to use an encrypted mailing list, visit: http://schleuder2.nadir.org/
What is an etherpad?
Pads are a great way to collaborate in real-time on documents. They are a good alternative to corporate services like Google Docs and more effective for co-editing text than mailing back and forth. The main thing you need to look for in a pad is that it is hosted with an encrypted connection via SSL. A list of such pads can be found here.
When you create a pad you decide on the name of the URL. Just like with creating passwords, you should make it long and inventive. For example: https://pad.riseup.net/p/feminists is not secure. You want to use a more complicated URL such as https://pad.riseup.net/p/FeministsRockAndTheyWillBeDoingGreatThingsToghether. Once the pad is created you can send the URL to your friends and colleagues to start collaborating on a document. Remember whoever has the URL can access the pad, so don't share it in public spaces.
Pads allow you to choose to be anonymous, use a moniker or use your real name. There is a colour-based system that differentiates the contributions of each participants on the pad, so being anonymous will not bring too much confusion while writing. If are worried about your pad being found by others, you might consider a password protected pad. For this check out: https://www.protectedtext.com/
What is Internet Relay Chat (IRC)?
IRC is a chat service, which can be hosted on different servers, and accessed from through different user clients. It provides the ability to set up channels or chatrooms where many people can discuss and gives you the option to encrypt your communication. You can’t embed video, audio or pictures, but you can link to them.
IRC can be used to facilitate collaboration in addition to decision-making processes. If you are thinking about starting a new project, are launching a campaign or just want to have a space for your group to ask each other questions, you can consider using IRC. IRC allows for real-time collaboration as long as you all have easy access to the Internet and can arrange your schedules to be available at the same time. If your group has individuals working from different timezones or from places where power outages regularly occur or some of you regularly get pulled away to look after kids or parents, a mailing list might be better for reaching decisions collectively.
IRC can take a little time to get used depending on the skills in your group. Regardless of your skills, developing relationships across a purely text-based channel such as IRC can be challenging. Try to be sensitive to how language can be interpreted and different styles of communication that exist between different people. You can always think of ways to overcome this challenge with your group. For example structuring introductions when you first start out, sharing links to articles, chatting about random news in your country or trying to develop a shared language.
Setting up IRC
There are several ways to chat through an IRC network. The easiest way to start out is to use a web browser application such as those provided by Indymedia or Freenode. You can instantly create a nickname and a channel which you can give to your colleagues to connect with you.
Using a web application is however not the most secure option so if you are a more advanced user, or have already tested IRC out and think it will work for you, it is recommended you access your chosen IRC network from a client. There is advice and instructions on how to access an IRC network this way, provided by Freenode, Autistici and Indymedia. The last two also allow us to anonymise our connections through Tor.
There are several clients which you can choose from. For example Xchat for GNULinux and Windows and XChat Aqua/Azure for Mac OS, and many more. For more information on IRC chat clients, look at the Prism-Break web platform, a site that has been developed after the Snowden revelations which supports you to opt out of mass surveillance programs.
Basic rules of engagement
Once you start your meeting it is useful to appoint a facilitator that will keep track of time and topics to be discussed and who might ask participants to re-focus if the discussion goes off track. When you start a conversation take time to say hi and greet people. It is particularly important to talk to newcomers. If a group of you know each other over IRC, you might have a tendency to chat to one another and/or give more importance to what your friends say. In order to create a welcoming environment and a safe space, acknowledging and valuing the voice of everyone will be key on IRC.
While continuing the discussion, let's remind ourselves that writing is not easy for everyone and/or that many might not be using their mother tongue. IRC can also go very fast, particularly if you are many in the discussion, so allowing everyone to slow down and let people read all the inputs can help to facilitate an empowering discussion. You might for instance decide that people should be given turns to speak in order to ensure that everyone has space to express themselves. You can simply assign turns in alphabetical order of nicknames (or any order you want to give) for each of the points addressed. This can help structure the conversation and stop one or a small group of people dominating the conversation. It can also be useful to end your conversation with “over” or “finish” or "done" so everyone knows when you have stopped speaking and because IRC meetings can be tiring, you can set a time limit beforehand. Whichever methods you choose to use, make them visible and explicit beforehand, in the email where you will be inviting people for the IRC meeting for example.
Tools for managing projects and groups: wikis, forums and Crabgrass
Chat services and mailing lists will only take you so far. When it comes to managing collaboration between people living in different places, you will probably find yourself looking for something with more functionality.
One of the oldest tools used for public discussions online is internet forums, where discussions can be hosted over time and are at least temporarily archived. What really distinguishes a forum from a mailing list or IRC chat is that it has a tree-like structure and can contain a number of sub discussions, each with a different topic.
If you are looking for a tool to collaboratively write a text with many sections or even to create the initial structure and content for a website, a wiki can be useful. This is a web application that allows for hierarchical structuring of content and tracks the edits and additions of the users, easily allowing you to revert changes, move around and delete content.
Both forums and wikis need to be installed in a web space, so will require the expertise of a website manager. However you will find these tools, together with many others, in one of the most versatile platforms for managing groups and collective projects, Crabgrass. Crabgrass is hosted by the autonomous server Riseup, we.riseup.net, the tech collective providing tools for activists, already mentioned above.
Crabgrass provides a secure HTTPS connection and encrypted data storage, and users and groups are free to choose which information they reveal about themselves. The offered tools include functionality for personal messaging, public or private forums, wikis, task lists, decision-making tools, and a system for uploading and managing images, audio, and documents. It is also possible to set up a customized public homepage where your group can publish your event calendar, blog posts, and other content. For more about how to use Crabgrass, read this how-to in Tactical Tech's Security in-a-box
Finally you can visit the alternative social networks section in this manual if you want to use social networking platforms other than the dominant ones.
Strategies for creating safe spaces in the public sphere
There are ways to counter the vulnerability and intimidation we might feel online. This can be achieved by caring for our personal and collective safety, through using security and privacy enabling tools and techniques. This can also be achieved by resistance. Organising online collective actions can be a very powerful exercise to resist what can be an unsafe environment. They can also bring attention and visibility to certain issues and in turn help bring about transformation. Using feminist counterspeech, storming Wikipedia collectively and swarming together can all be important acts that have an impact for you and your group at the discursive (written), psychological and material levels. And they are fun too! Mostly because they are creative, bring about individual and collective agency and the feeling that you are not alone.
Feminist counterspeech has been used as a response to making sexism visible online, as a response to online attacks and harrassment, among others. Other forms of resistance include organized public shaming, advocacy and lobbying for public policies, etc. Feminist counterspeech can be an effective tactic to trigger a new narrative online, create a sense of belonging and make visible the effectiveness of collective feminist actions online. Feminist counterspeech is a form of discursive resistance that allows you to call out misogyny and sexism online and makes visible both weak and strong feminist networks online. There are many examples of these which you have probably seen and appreciated. For example the #yesallwomen hashtag which was created as a response to the #notallmen hashtag on Twitter and was used to document women's stories of harassment and abuse. Or the rapid and distributed sharing and uploading of the artist Rupi Kuar's photo showing menstrual blood, in response to the image-sharing tool Instagram censoring it.
Feminists have criticised the way in which knowledge is produced, made and constructed on Wikipedia. The fact that Wikipedia’s contributors are mostly male (about 10% are women though this can vary between countries) in their twenties and thirties and disproportionately Western are important factors that influence content. Women who have played a significant role in history are often missing from Wikipedia and, at times, feminist, queer and trans content are not always easily accepted on the online encyclopedia. A notable example relates to an entry about Chelsea Manning, the United States Army soldier who was convicted in July 2013 of violations of the USA Espionage Act after releasing the largest set of classified documents to WikiLeaks. When Manning formally announced her gender transition, the English Wikipedia entry under her name was quickly amended to reflect this change. A week after intense discussions regarding this amendment took place, where a majority of Wikipedians disregarded experts on transgendered issues, the article was reverted back to Bradley Manning. The article has since then returned to Chelsea Manning (at least in the English language).
Storming Wikipedia or organising an Edit-a-thon is a tactic to respond to the lack of women, feminist, queer and trans* content on Wikipedia. These empower participants to learn collectively how to edit Wikipedia and to change content to better reflect their communities and histories. Learning to edit Wikipedia can seem daunting so collectively editing and creating pages about trans*, women and queers is a great way to confront fears, add feminist, queer and trans content on the online encyclopedia and Do-It-With-Others (DIWO) in a safe space.
How to organise a Wikistorming
There are always great reasons to organise a wikistorming on any day! However, if you are looking for broader impact and be connected to others such gatherings often happen on these two days: Ada Lovelace Day in mid-October and March 8 International Women's Day. Once you have decided on a date, gather a group of friends and friends of friends who want to learn or already know how to edit Wikipedia and identify a safe space where to hold the event. It can be held in someone’s home, in a community centre, at an art centre or at a community organisation. Make sure you find a place that is accessible and ideally that already has a feminist base. Wikistorming may last for a day or half a day. Before the wikistorming or as part of it, decide which Wikipedia entries you want create or which existing page you want to edit. Be realistic in your goals and don't put too many edits on your plate! To edit Wikipedia carefully it takes time. If you want to organise a wikistorming visit: http://femtechnet.newschool.edu/wikistorming/
Installing Bots Against Trolls And Swarming Together
If you use Twitter, 4chan or any online forums where comments are allowed, you might have noticed that they tend to not be very safe spaces. Kathy Siera says there is a “koolaid point” for women and queers who start to gather a following and be listened online. At this point, a certain group of people may decide that you have too much influence, and make it their mission to silence you or discredit you. We have seen this in numerous high profile cases but also in constant reports from women and queer writers, activists and organisers.This is called trolling.
What is a troll?
A troll was once just a mountain-dwelling monster in kids stories. Then a troll became the word for early internet users who intentionally sowed discord on IRC and chat forums, often targeting and singling out new users. But now the word is used more broadly to describe people who target and harass others online. This can include anything from constant derogatory and belittling messages to edited images and even threats. Most often the subjects of this kind of abuse are marginalised groups like women, queers and people of colour. In recent years there have been more and more cases of people speaking out about how they are harassed.
How should you deal with trolls?
There are two key ways you can deal with trolls: one is to block them and report them to the platform you are using or to engage with them. This decision depends on what you want to achieve. Blocking them can definitely work and you can continue with your work unimpeded. A project like “Block Together” was developed to help people who are harassed share their blocklists with each other. Historically platforms like Twitter and Facebook have not handled reports of intimidation and violence very well. However this is changing, as they recognise how severe this problem is and how it deters people with important voices from using their services. When blocking doesn't help is when users are really committed to trolling and create numerous different profiles (called “sock puppet accounts”) to continue the harassment. Then your blocking has to keep up with their new account generation and it becomes tedious. You might consider the alternative of engaging trolls. There are a few tactics for engaging trolls. One is to try and enter into rational arguments with them and interrogate their views. Another way is to try to shame them or use humour to deflate them.
Effective engagement with trolls can actually help to generate a debate and public interest around the act of harassment and involve others online in talking about safe spaces, violence, sexism and online behaviour. It can also be a source of empowerment for the subjects of trolling: seeing others laugh at your harasser can be very uplifting.
The method of swarming can be used to drown out harassers. This can be done in retro style by creating communities of support with your allies in social media spaces where you are likely to encounter harassment. When someone is being targeted, others can quickly be alerted and bombard the harasser with messages. The content of that message is up to you: it could be scolding, educational, or loving. Another option is: instead of directing messages towards the harasser, the swarm can fill the victim's content stream in order to quickly make the negative, violent content disappear into online history.
Do I have to use my own account?
If you want to engage with trolls, and even if you consider using the “swarming” method, you might prefer to stay anonymous to avoid having your real identity trolled. Setting up a network of second accounts to do your troll-response work can be a good idea for your organisation or your community of friends. It might be easier too, psychologically, to say some of the things you want to trolls, than you would when it is linked to your main identity. And it is more performative: you can create any kind of identity you want and style it with an avatar, a funny name, a character etc. (see "Creating a new online identity" and the following chapters in Step 1).
While battling the trolls in the old-fashioned human way can be fun and eye-opening, it can also be a time waster. Another option to consider is automation. For this you need someone who can do some coding to start from scratch or work with freely available code someone already uploaded on Github.
What's a bot?
A bot is a software application that runs an automated task over the internet. Bots perfom tasks at a greater velocity than humans can. There are many different breeds of bots: for example the spambot which harvests email addresses and contact information or the attention bot which fakes clicks on Youtube videos to make them look more popular than they actually are. They can post content, gather information and click on things. Twitter is filled with bots which use algorithms to harvest information and tweet. Many of these are humorous and random: like @twoheadlines which randomly grabs news headlines and combines them to create funny combinations. The below steps address Twitter mainly. However some of these ideas can be used across other platforms too.
How can a bot battle a troll?
A bot can be programed to document trolls' activities or talk to them, so that you don't have to. There are a few ways of doing this: the autotweet bot and a silent data-gathering bot in combination with the talking bot(s). The examples below speak specifically about what is possible on Twitter. However the ideas could be applied to other platforms.
1. The data-gathering bot
The data-gathering bot quietly scans Twitter gathering tweets, usernames and any other available information you program it to, and places this in a .csv file for you to analyse or use for further purposes outlined below. This first kind of bot can be useful just for understanding what kind of content is out there and maybe doing a first stage analysis of abuse.
2. The simple tweeting bot
If you follow the #gamergate hashtag on Twitter, you will see a bot called @everyethics which tweets different humorous reasons for the #gamergate trolling, ridiculing of the claim that Gamergate was not about attacking women in gaming but about “ethics in game journalism”. While this bot could be seen as spam, it was actually clearly a strategy to undermine and make fun of the trolls.
3. The retweet bot
The retweet bot is programmed to scan the Twitter API for a list of words, phrases or hashtags defined by you, and to retweet those. This would be a strategy to document and publicise Twitter abuse. Here's an example of such a bot you can download and install.
4. The autotweet bot
The “autotweet” bot is similar except that every time it finds a tweet with one of the words, phrases or hashtags you have programmed it to look for, it will tweet a prewritten tweet to that user. There are a number of examples of this in Twitter history: @stealthmountain which corrects any Twitter user who spells “sneak peek” wrong. These bots get shut down much quicker now as was shown by @fembot which responded to racists and sexist tweets that it spotted and was blocked after making only 75 tweets. Unfortunately Twitter does not make it so easy to do this anymore.
5. The tweeting bot in combination with the data-gathering bot
You can use a data-gathering bot to find the users tweeting violent things, compile them in a spreadsheet for you to read over and check for accuracy and remove any false positives. Alongside the data-gathering bot, you can have a talking bot or a team of talking bots which can tweet whatever you decide is useful information, to those users.
Things to watch out for
1. Language is slippery
If you want to tackle violence against women online, you will have to be very careful about what kind of language you search for. For example, every time someone uses the word “bitch” on Twitter to intimidate or harass a woman, there are probably at least five other people using it to tell their friend how much they love them or talk about the latest celebrity affair. The best way to figure out which language is used to harm women is to crowdsource it from people who have been harassed and then do a number of tests, pulling tweets from the Twitter API and then analysing it yourself.
2. Twitter is smart (and strict)
Twitter is not against bots and if you just want to create a bot that scans information from Twitter for you to analyse, or a bot that just tweets out to no one in particular, you will not encounter any problems. However if you want to tweet @ other Twitter users, you have to take into account Twitter's policy against spam. See Twitter's guide to Automation Rules and Best Practices.
Evading Twitter's spam filters
There are a few things to keep in mind when trying to bypass Twitter's spam filters:
1. Safety in numbers The more bots you have to distribute the work amongst, the more successful you will be. The group Peng! Collective did such an action in 2015 which they called “Zero Trollerance”. They ran a silent data-gathering bot to identify trolls through a long list of keyword combinations, hashtags and phrases. They then ran 160 bots which tweeted at the database of 3000 trolls, sending them new messages daily for an entire week. They were for the most part able to avoid being blocked by Twitter or users because they had so many bots and they rotated the tweeting across the bots.
2. Rate Limit
Twitter monitors each account's activity and has a “rate limit” that limits your number of tweets, to ensure that no one floods the content stream. This is also the way that they figure out which accounts might be spambots. If the frequency of tweeting looks like it doesn't come from a human, Twitter will block the account. If you try to tweet the same tweet, many times right after each other, you will receive a message telling you that your tweet looks like spam and that Twitter is blocking you in order to protect their users. At the time of writing, tests were done with tweeting 15 times with 8 minute intervals and this passed under the radar.
If you are tweeting the exact same tweet over and over again, this is also a red flag to Twitter's spam filters. How to avoid this is to pad every tweet with a random word from a readable language that is not the same as the language you are tweeting in. The easiest way to do this is a compile a long list of these words, and program your script to draw from this list randomly for every tweet.
4. Location of the tweets
Use a VPN which gives you a new IP address every time you reconnect to fool Twitter into thinking that the accounts are being managed from different locations. To learn more about what a VPN is, read "Anonymising your connections" in Step 0.
How to set up a Twitter account to be used as a bot
You still need to write the script for you or to configure a script already created by someone else and downloaded from Github, or to find someone else to do this for you. But what is easy to do and what even volunteers might like to do is to help you set up all the Twitter accounts so that they can be easily controlled by the script.
1. Create a new account as you would normally and make sure to give it a photo, follow some people and do some tweeting (recently registered, faceless accounts with 0 followers will get blocked very quickly). 2. In order to function as a bot the account needs to be verified with a valid phone number. To do this you can use your own phone number, volunteers numbers or buy a bulk of cheap sim cards. Don't use the same phone number for numerous accounts – again this will be a quick sign to Twitter that the account is dodgy. 3. Now you need to register an application with the Twitter API which will allow your bot to make “calls” to the API, i.e. retrieve or send data. Go to apps and create a new application. You can provide any dummy content in the fields there and then you can set your permissions to “read and write” and generate the keys you will need.
More on these steps and some simple bots to download and test out at Using bots to troll on twitter.
Dos and dont's supporting people subject to online violence
When your friends are under attack online there are a few steps to follow to support them.
Try to be quick in bringing support. But remember that knowing what to do and how to do it in such situations needs a lot of practice to become good at it. As a general rule, you should tell yourself that gender-based violence and harassment online are unacceptable.This should be your main message if you don't have a lot of practice in dealing with such cases.
If you are close to the person under attack, offer immediate assistance. In the event of doxing, where confidential info has been released on the internet about the person, you might want to offer a safe space (a home) if the person does not feel safe to stay where she/they lives. You can also offer to moderate your friend's Twitter feed or blog comments to allow her/them to take a break in time of stress.
If you do not know (well) the person, you can still speak out. In fact, speaking out should be our collective responsibility! If you want to fight sexism and racism, to name just those two, you need to take responsibility for it. This is not only something women and minorities should think about -- everyone should. If you witness sexism online don't simply send a private email or a tweet to the person who is under attack telling them that you think this kind of behaviour is despicable (sometimes, if the person under attack is being flooded with tweets and mails, it's even better not to write at all). Instead, speak out about it in your networks and raise your voice against such behaviour. You can for instance commend the work that the person under attack has been doing. Don't be silent, especially if you are a colleague or a team mate. Show your support. Make your voice resonate online, particularly if you are a man!
If you want to have more impact think about crafting a collective action. Collective actions are often more effective than individual actions. Make sure you gather a group of friends, and friends of friends, for a Twitter storming for instance. Make your point visible! This will show to the person under attack that you and others care and that such acts are not OK.
Depending on the nature and context of the attack, you might want to speak out to the media and highlight the gendered nature of online attacks. Using the media to bring light to a situation can be an important way to bring about visibility to such issue. As a best practice, though, we recommend that you consult the persons under attack before speaking to the mainstream media. If you do not know her/them, go through the web of trust. Also, we recommend you to contact a friendly and/or feminist media outlet or journalist. Prior to doing so, we recommend that you form a group of people opposed to such violence, draft a press release and explain what gender-based violence and harassment online are and why they exist. This will bring visibility to the issue and concentrate less on the person who has been or is under attack. Thinking about the harm and added stress that the person can go through if they are made visible in the mainstream media is an issue that you should carefully assess. Good intentions are not enough, you need to think about the impact your actions will have on her life. Make sure you have experienced feminists with you, and consider especially that this is not about you: this is about fighting sexism online!
If you are part of an organisation or network, you can write a solidarity statement that explicitly says you condemn online gender-based violence and harassment. Having feminists review the statement of solidarity is a best practice: your good intentions are not enough. If it's a person from your organisation who has been under attack, make sure she/they read the solidarity statement before it is released. The person will feel that her team mates care and respect her/their wishes. It will also allow the person to have agency over what is written. What is even better is to have an organisational policy on what to do when someone is under attack. If you have a policy and specific steps to follow when such situation occurs, chances are you will do less harm and be more effective in your strategy. Have feminists review your statement, but also remember that if your organisation is not based solely on volunteer work, this is one of the activities that should be paid. This is crucial work and it should be valued!
As an ally, that is someone who wants to support a disadvantaged group but is not part of that group (e.g. men are allies when it comes to women's rights issues), you ought to speak out and say “no” to online harassment and violence. Speaking out ought to happen in the public spaces. This is very important. Do it all the time that you witness online violence! Otherwise, the culture of impunity to online harassment will continue.
Finally, if someone tells you you are sexist, or your comment was sexist, don't try to defend yourself. Try to understand where this comment comes from. Be open and ready to continue to learn, to inform yourself and read about feminism, sexism and patriarchy! As we all grow up in a sexist environment, we have internalized sexist and racist values over the years. Be ready tochallenge yourself!
You can read more about what can be done to Combat Online Sexism visit: http://leighalexander.net/but-what-can-be-done-dos-and-donts-to-combat-online-sexism/
What are some of the current platforms which document online violence?
Documenting instances of online violence and harassment is key to showing the extent of the problem and is very powerful as it makes visible the structural aspect of violence in societies. A few initiatives have started to document this process. We highlight a few examples below.
APC's Take back the Tech has collected more than 500 stories of women who have experienced violence online. These stories were collected using the open source platform called Ushahidi. The data visualisation can be see here: https://www.takebackthetech.net/mapit/ . The overall results of those who have participated in this exercise show that women between 18 and 30 who are using Facebook are most likely to be under online threat. To read about the story visit: http://www.genderit.org/articles/mapping-strategy-disclose-online-violence-against-women
HarassMap was born as a response to the persistent problem of sexual harassment on the streets of Egypt. Since the crowdsourcing platform based on Ushahidi is anonymous, Harassmap allows to document instances of sexual harassment whether you are the victim or a witness (http://harassmap.org/en/). To read about the effectiveness of crowdsourced data visit: http://harassmap.org/en/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/Towards-A-Safer-City_full-report_EN-.pdf [PDF]. Similar to HarrassMap is Hollaback, an initiative that aims at stopping street harassment using technology all over the world (http://www.ihollaback.org/).
HeartMob is a platform that aims at providing real-time support to individuals experiencing online harassment and empowers bystanders to act. This platform is being built and you should stay abreast of its development. It is an initiative of Hollaback. Visit their Kickstarter project to know more about the initiative: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/4096561/heartmob/description
Building our safe spaces offline
All the ideas about creating and maintaining safe spaces detailed so far can of course also be applied offline when you think about bringing women and trans* persons together to network, learn and collaborate. In the case of security and privacy training, you also need to consider how your participants might learn skills to protect themselves when the topics themselves can very easily be frightening or overwhelming.
Ideas have arisen in women and trans* tech conferences and skills workshops as how best to build safe spaces. Groups such as Flossie.org, Fossbox, Autonomous Tech Fetish (ATF), and Eclectic Tech Carnival (ETC) have each used a different set of principles to build safe spaces and are thus good examples to explore to highlight some of the differences, how to facilitate discussion about them, and how to arrive at a shared idea of an appropriate space for women and trans* persons to engage with tech.
Every group has to work out their own idea of an appropriate space for their participants. Once you have arrived at a shared ideal, it's time to look at the practicalities of implementing these ideas in material, offline, spaces. This will include thinking about how much formality you want, what kind of formalities, how you will accommodate diversity, how you will facilitate participation for all the participants both in terms of your practical arrangements and in the way you formalise the social space.
How do you create a safe space?
The difficulties in defining what a "safe space" should look like are inherent in the fact that you are bringing a diversity of people together, who might be considered to be part of the same community but all have different histories, contexts and needs. What one person might find politically, socially or personally threatening, might mean very little to another. And everyone will of course also come with different experiences and levels of knowledge and skills in technology.
We need to remind ourselves then that whenever we create a space, even a safe space, it will never be experienced in the same way by the people involved. It is important to be aware that, in struggling to perfect a feminist safe space, one always runs the risk of creating, instead, yet another form of social control and pressure to conform to a particular image of what a woman or trans* identified person is.
So, overall, the most important thing to remember is that everyone is different, with their own set of experiences, history, context and needs. There is always risk and vulnerability in opening yourself to new experiences. The more diverse the environment, the more emotional risk we open ourselves to as ideas and ways of being may be fundamentally challenged. So we are not aiming for the avoidance of any kind of conflict or emotional risk but, instead, to provide buffers, understanding, reciprocation, support, love, and care for each other and for our shared endeavour. We must take every possible step to ensure that practical needs are met (protecting anonymity, respecting diversity, dealing with harassment, providing appropriate living space, etc.), and focus on collaboration, facilitation and mediation.
Women and trans* only?
This question can be one of the most divisive as it will often touch on people's strongly held sense of their political, personal, sexual and social identities. It can raise up issues of sexual orientation and gender identity as well as mobilising all kinds of other loyalties. Some will prefer a women and trans* only environment, some will feel that this opens up an opportunity for external attacks on the whole project by adversarial forces, whilst some will feel that cis-men friends and colleagues will be unfairly excluded and resentful. Discussion can sometimes divide along lines of sexual orientation or of feminist conviction - or just between women who regularly work alongside cis-men in the tech industry and women who would like to learn tech but find learning alongside cis-men challenging. These divisions will also never be clearly defined - individuals don't take neat "sides" as they probably have multiple modes of identification.
If you need to have a debate about this, some things to consider are:
- Think about boundaries for the debate -- agreed framework, rules of engagement? How do we define "woman" and "trans*"? How do we define "safe"?
- Who do we want to include or influence, specifically women and trans* or also potential sympathisers?
- What is the balance of positions on feminism present in the group, is there a prevalent "flow" of opinion?
- How important versus how contentious? Is it worth alienating some people from the group? How can we frame the debate to avoid alienating people who don't agree with the decision?
- How will the decision affect the actual experience of people within the space?
- Do we have all the skills we need to deliver this project among our networks or will we need specific additional skills? Where will we get them?
- How will the space be formalised to promote equal participation, especially if cis-men are included?
Take your time to decide these questions. It's probably a good idea to record them somewhere so they can be referred to in future. If you use chat channels (IRC, pads, etc.) you can probably take a log of the discussion. If not, some form of minutes will be useful. You can then use this record as a basis for any formal codes of conduct or policies you want to draft later and to avoid getting stuck in endless arguments by having something clear to refer back to and for new participants to catch up.
What are you trying to do?
For some groups, discussion and reflection is a key activity which renders the whole group activity meaningful. For others, discussion is a source of vexation and obstruction from practical objectives. Again, this is a somewhat false divide as everyone needs to reflect and everyone needs to be practical. Nevertheless, there may be important differences in emphasis and these may be based on what you are actually trying to do. It's all too easy to become engrossed in politics and to neglect to make sure there's enough discussion on the specific aims of the project itself and on the experience of diverse participants.
Building offline spaces is easiest and most successful when you're clear about what you're trying to do and how you plan to go about it. Being clear about what you're trying to do can also shift debate through less painful channels and provide very clear, practical arguments for specific choices, making the discussion feel less emotive.
The first thing which must be considered is exactly what the event is intended to achieve. Women and trans* and tech events can probably be categorised something like this (again, this abstract division may not reflect the 'messiness' of practical activism):
- Advocacy: How do we change the culture of tech sectors to be more amenable for women and trans* persons, and/or let the world know that they are great at tech, and/or get more women involved?
- Skills: How can we learn to do xyz?
- Support, networking and boundary-crossing: What does it mean to be a woman or trans* person in tech? How can women from different places or sectors come together to spark off new ideas and practices? How can we support each other as women and trans* persons in tech?
We can see right away how these different types of event might develop different gender policies even if the same group of people were organising them. For example, it's difficult advocating change in the male culture of tech sectors if you haven't invited cis-men to hear what you want to say - but you might prefer to discuss *how* to do this in a women and trans*-only environment first. Or are you advocating engagement with technology to women and trans* and mainly want free, frank and mutually supportive discussion or skills-sharing? In this case, a women and trans* environment suggests itself.
With skills workshops, there is research to suggest that women and trans* persons learn tech skills best with each other so these workshops have a very clear and communicable reason for being exclusive. But you may still hear cis-men allies grumbling that they also wanted to learn that skill and it isn't fair. So, in that case, we can either explain the benefits of exclusive learning environments and recommend that a cis-man step forward to run an open workshop, or we might consider compromising with women and trans*-only as facilitators but inviting open participation. Another possibility is to run an event twice, once for women and trans* participants and once for open participation. As a side-effect, this can help others to experience the safe space methodology and change their own practice.
It's also important to remember that building offline spaces is resource- and labour-intensive and often many compromises have to be made. It may be a good idea to try to identify as early as possible which values are shared, important, and relevant to the event so that you can constantly remember to prioritise those and de-prioritise less important or potentially divisive issues.
Choosing a format that fits
Once you have settled the basic questions about what your event is *for* and who you want to invite, it's time to think about the format you will use for your event. There are many different ways of organising different kinds of spaces, the following is just an outline of a few of those most popular with FLOSS communities.
- Temporary Autonomous Zone: An alternative to traditional models of revolution, the T.A.Z is an uprising that creates free, ephemeral enclaves of autonomy in the here-and-now. [| Beautiful Trouble]
- Un-Conference: creating a space that helps people make connections, share knowledge, collaborate and create brainchildren. To take part, attendees are encouraged to give a presentation, create a discussion, or even chair a debate [| Lanyrd on running an unconference] and [| Open Space]. Pros: relatively egalitarian (watch out for tyranny of structurelessness) and relatively easy to organise (no messing about with programmes, scheduling and advanced prep). Cons: can be extremely intimidating and therefore exclusionary towards less experienced or skilled participants and stressful if you need to organise tech or other resources for specific activities in advance.
- Workshop: transferring skills or knowledge in an interactive session - there are thousands upon thousands of workshop methodologies, so selecting a workshop format is very much about being clear about what you want to achieve. Workshops are a good format for building skills or for maker and design activities.
- Hacklab/Hackerspace/Makerspace: Hacklabs, hackerspaces and [| makerspaces] are community spaces with hardware and/or tools - great for people to "get their hands dirty", you can mess about with anything from taking computers apart to installing Linux to making music with bananas or even building a WWII PoW radio out of razorblades and copper wire! To learn more about hacklabs and hackerspaces, read Maxigas' article "Hacklabs and Hackerspaces: Shared Machine Workshops", in: http://www.coredem.info/IMG/pdf/pass11_an-2.pdf [PDF]
- Sprint: A sprint is a get-together of people involved in a project to further a focused development of some aspect of the project such as working on sections of code, writing manuals or books, etc. These are effective at getting a lot done quickly for code and manuals (less so for other forms of writing) but very exhausting and emotionally demanding - make sure you keep food and drink coming! To read more about sprints, visit: [| Wikipedia on sprints] and | Flossmanuals Booksprints].
- Hackathon: with their motto "programming till someone drops from exhaustion", hack events can also mix different groups like NGOs with hackers to come up with new approaches to building tech for that group. To learn more about hackatons, read: [| Global Voices on how to run a hackathon].
- Seminar: bringing together small groups for recurring meetings focusing on a particular subject, in which everyone present actively participates, or offering information or training on specific topics. Pros: structured activity supports women with less experience or confidence, planning for tech/resource support is easier, people know what to expect. Cons: can be overly structured and lacking spontaneity for more experience participants , more 'carnivalised' or 'top-down', more organisational effort in advance. Read [| the page of Wikipedia on Seminars].
Your choice of format is going to be about:
- what you're trying to do - ask yourself which format will support this activity best
- participants' needs, existing skills, experience and preferences
- practical considerations - what physical spaces are available, what will they allow you to do, what resources do you have, etc.?
- Your organisational resources - how much can you take on?
Choice of workshop or seminar format is obvious for skills sharing, but it can get more difficult to decide for advocacy and networking events. Advocacy events can be some of the most challenging as it's easy to spend the entire day "re-inventing the wheel" with people who are new to the questions. If you have participants from diverse backgrounds in your advocacy event, it's probably best to go with a more structured format. Unconferencing and hacking works best with activists or experienced practitioners who are used to a high level of self-determination and with a shared understanding of implied rules and structures. Having said that, it can work well to try more open formats anyway, but be prepared for some skilled facilitating to make it safe and fun for less experienced participants as well as the more experienced.
It's perfectly fine to mix and match approaches to suit what you're trying to do and whom you're doing it with - so go ahead and experiment.
Codes of conduct
It's important, especially in mixed environments, to think about what's acceptable behaviour in the space and what isn't. In order for this to have any practical effect, you also have to think about what you'll do if individuals breach this - or when things go wrong generally.
You can find plenty of information and example policies on the [| Geek Feminism Conference anti-harassment/Adoption page]
Make sure your participants understand your policy and how that relates to their behaviour. It can be useful to make time in your schedule at the beginning of the event to share your policy, and reach consensus with the group on how to maintain a safe space over the days of the event.
Your policy should at the base be about preventing aggressive behaviour and not about trying to "police" how people identify, communicate or present themselves as long as this is not creating a serious threat to other participants. It's also worth remembering that people who are struggling in a culturally unfamiliar environment can become confrontational more easily than they usually would. There may be many reasons why a participant might be struggling to communicate positively at any given moment. It's key to remain calm and to provide a non-judgemental space for the expression of emotions like anger or frustration. We are different, let's celebrate it, even when it's difficult to do!
- Don't take or circulate sound, video or photos without permission - if anyone present faces significant external risk then don't take photos at all unless participants have given express permission and an opportunity to cover their identity.
- If you wish to record the event, prepare formal consent forms telling people exactly what audio-visual records are being made and how they will be stored and used and ask for clear consent with a signature.
- Don't share details of anyone's participation, speech or actions on social media without their express permission.
- Refer to Infrastructure sections to understand how to set up secure networks.
In the following, two women-and-tech spaces will help illustrate what was covered until now in this section of the manual, which pertains to the aims, participants and context which influence format.
Eclectic Tech Carnival (ETC)
ETC was organised on an "unconference" model using a combination of university spaces, art centres and community centres. It is relatively well-funded and so is able to bring participants in from all over the world. It is located in a different city each time and organised by a group from that city in collaboration with the core ETC collective. It provides "full board" space for participants and also partners with additional arts events located in the host city.
ETC made the decision to be for women-only. Participants are culturally diverse but mostly from arts, academic, non-profit and related tech backgrounds. This means that they have a lot of experience in self-organising and thrive in a relatively unstructured environment. The code of conduct tends to be implicit rather than stated.
Eclectic Tech Carnival spawned [| Transhack 2014] and also Flossie.org. ETC and Transhack's relatively coherent culture has fostered the development of a strong focus on reflection and feminist practice. It has been an influential and much-loved space for more than a decade.
Flossie runs a conference and also skills workshops and was based on the ETC format. It is intended to combine advocacy, boundary-crossing, support and skills-sharing bringing together women involved in digital arts with coders, artists, and makers. There are various problems with trying to bring the ETC format to the UK, which has an extremely marketised academic/arts/non-profit sector and is outside of the Schengen area, making it very difficult for non-EU participants to attend in person. Eventually, it was decided to do something a little different. There was a small amount of funding from Google which didn't cover "full board" and, in any case, it was impossible to find spaces such as the schools used in ETC in Austria in the marketised UK public sector. Videos were made and the links were available for women outside of EU to contribute. The whole event was not streamed publicly because of bandwidth problems at the university which hosted the event.
In the end the biggest difference came from involving more women from pure tech and engineering sectors. Flossie worked with Ubuntu Women and the Women's and Open Source Groups at the British Computer Society to involve women from purely technological backgrounds as well as digital artists, activists and makers in order to foster wider skills sharing and open up access to high-level computer skills for women. This was very popular but also opened out all kinds of communication difficulties as the groups had quite different cultures and backgrounds.
The first issue raised by this was that many of the students who joined the collective wanted a more structured environment as they didn't feel confident in self-organising and more experienced organisers also felt the unconference structure could be a problem given the diversity of backgrounds and interests. The second was that a reflective approach became more difficult. In the first year, a panel was held to consider how to go about building a positive representation of women in technology. This quickly became very dislocated and adversarial because, as the group began to realise, there were many different models of feminism and of technology between women who were primarily tech/engineering, academics, and women who were primarily activists or artists. It was decided that the group would focus on the basic value that all shared - supporting more women to make better use of open technology and to move from being consumers to being producers. The group had to deprioritise feminist reflection or debates about practice. This proved very effective in holding together these very different groups and building lasting networks with a positive and collaborative atmosphere.
What is a Feminist Hackerspace?
Building a feminist hackerspace is another way of creating a safe space offline for women in tech in addition to reach out to women activists and artists who might not be drawn to traditional hackerspaces.
But first what is a hackerspace? Hackerspaces are often volunteer-run spaces based on the concept of openness, where in theory anyone who is interested in learning about and playing with technology (software, hardware, etc.) can go. However, throughout the world women have remained underrepresented in these spaces despite the attempts to proposed remedial strategies in certain space, such as women-only hack nights and the adoption of codes of conduct. The women-only hack night particularly has been met with controversy in many spaces since it is deemed to go against the principle of openness.
Other reasons have been highlighted to explain the emergence of feminist hackerspaces such as the difficulties in recognizing and acknowledging privileges along the lines of gender, race, ethnicity and class in addition to the patriarchal behaviours that many women recognise as prevalent in hackerspaces. To change the aforementioned state of affair, feminist geeks, makers, artists and hackers have decided to start feminist hackerspaces. This shows that women are interested in technology, want to learn, improve their skills, look for a like-minded community and want to share their skills with others. And it is fun too!
Feminist hackerspaces are not all the same. They vary in form, shape and size. What seems to unite them though is a set of boundaries that they decide collectively (who can be a member, who can be a guest, what are the policies, etc.) and an explicit belief in feminist principles. Feminist hackerspaces provide a place to work on individual and collective projects in a supportive environment.
To know more about feminist hackerspaces you might want to visit the website of: the Mz Baltazar’s Laboratory in Vienna (http://www.mzbaltazarslaboratory.org/), The Mothership Hackermoms in Berkeley (http://mothership.hackermoms.org/), Double Union in San Francisco (https://www.doubleunion.org/) and FemHack in Montreal (http://foufem.wiki.orangeseeds.org/).
Which Criteria Do I Use to Assess Whether a Space is Safe or Not?
As a summary and check-list, you will find below the criteria (or rather questions) by which to assess whether a space is safe or not. These questions will be useful when you are assessing whether a space can be considered a safe space.
- What is the history of the space? Why was it decided to start this space and who started it? How many women are/were involved? Documenting yourself about a space is very important. Asking questions is always relevant.
- Who has left the space since the beginning and for which reasons? Is it mostly women who have left the space?
- Does the space has policies? If so, what kind? Go and read it.
- Are the policies regularly put in practice? Ask members in the space, particularly women.
- How do they welcome new comers? The first time you went to the space did you get a tour? Did people say hello? Were the people in the space friendly?
- Are there regular meetings (assemblies) that you can attend to raise issues of concerns, to suggest collective projects, to suggest the organisation of workshops, to discuss the space (its cleanliness, etc.), to present yourself, etc.?
- Is the language and vocabulary used on the website and in the space explicitly feminist? Read the website carefully, or go and see for yourself how the space looks like.
- Who can go in the space and under which condition? This should be made explicit on the website, otherwise ask.
- Do you know people who you trust in the space or do you know friends of friends? The web of trust can be very useful here.
- Is it an accessible space? In which part of town is it located? Are there bathrooms? What are the opening hours? Who has access to the keys of the space?
- How much does it cost to become a member? Is there a sliding scale policy?
No space is a perfect space, even a safe space is not perfect. But safe spaces should at least provide an environment and a set of boundaries to talk, meet, address and raise difficult issues, among others. If you feel the space has potential and you want to get involved, don't be shy!