Troll repellent: fighting online harassment with open source

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Opensource.com

Randi Harper has been a FreeBSD src committer, a DevOps engineer, and a FLOSS Weekly co-host. Recently, she's taken on a new role: target of sustained harassment. Randi met the harassment head-on and began developing tools to make the Internet a less hostile place. Her new organization, the Online Abuse Prevention Initiative, seeks to reduce online abuse through analysis, tools, and cooperative efforts.

As part of our OSCON Speaker Interview series, Randi talked to us about online abuse and her upcoming talk Open sourcing anti-harassment tools.

How did you get involved in online harassment prevention?

I've been a target of trolls for a long time. After watching numerous women get targeted and some get bullied out of their careers entirely, I realized that this wasn't a very unique experience among women. I started being more vocal about online abuse and my personal experiences, and this turned me into more of a target for much more intense harassment.

I'm a DevOps engineer at heart, and I tend to think of most things in the terms used in my field. Much of harassment I was receiving that had a detrimental affect on my daily life had to do with volume. When dealing with social interactions, especially those that are negative, humans don't scale. One night, I wrote a script, ggautoblocker, that would help filter out the people that I knew I didn't want to talk to: Gamergate supporters. A lot of people expressed interest in this script, so I posted it online and it became a pretty big success.

Things kind of blew up overnight. I became even more of a target, if that's possible, and I started having to deal with the ways that harassment could cross over to real life, such as stalkers, SWAT attempts, pizza showing up at my apartment, and email campaigns to my employer and family.

I have the perfect personality for dealing with this: I'm stubborn and have a pretty ironclad spine. I started learning where the system fell short, and I started trying to fix it. This was bigger than what was happening to me, so it ended up becoming my full-time job. I get to help people. I really love my job.

How do you work with or around API ToS when developing harassment prevention tools?

I talk to the companies with the ToS.

Most companies don't want harassment on their platforms—shocking, I know. When people in the community step up and start leading, companies are willing to help out in any way that they can. Open source is more nimble than a large company when trying to think up interesting solutions to a problem. This is one of the many reasons having a developer community is so important.

Are you concerned that tools like ggautoblocker are a technical solution to a human problem?

Concerned? Not really. Social problems are really hard and really big, so most people don't want to tackle them. Issues stagnate and get worse. Code won't solve everything. Code won't save the world—at least not by itself. However, code can make us examine some of the social problems from a point of view where we look to make small changes and influence our environment. It makes problem solving more accessible and provides a mechanism in which we can help. That's huge.

OSCON'S official stance is "Don't feed the trolls." You've said that ignoring harassment only allows for more victimization. How can communities strike a balance between starving trolls of attention while still standing up for victims?

Not feeding the trolls isn't the same thing as ignoring harassment. "Don't feed the trolls" has often been said to be a silencing mechanism, but I don't really think that's true, nor do I think that we should classify online harassment as trolling.

OSCON has done well. They are giving support to the targets of harassment as well as making a statement saying that further abuse isn't welcome. They are acknowledging the problem in a way that doesn't give the perpetrators the attention for which they are looking.

What can community leaders do to make their communities welcoming?

Have a well-written code of conduct that has been reviewed by external diversity advocates, and actually enforce it. Every community leader should read about the missing stair. Talk to people inside your community on a regular basis about how they feel things could be improved. Talk to outsiders to see what their impression of your community might be. Don't tolerate bullshit. Have established mechanisms for people that want to report behavior that makes them feel unwelcome, and constantly review those mechanisms to see if they could be better.

OSCON
Speaker Interview

This article is part of the Speaker Interview Series for OSCON 2015. OSCON is everything open source—the full stack, with all of the languages, tools, frameworks, and best practices that you use in your work every day. OSCON 2015 will be held July 20-24 in Portland, Oregon.

Ben Cotton is a meteorologist by training, but weather makes a great hobby. Ben works as the Fedora Program Manager at Red Hat. He co-founded a local open source meetup group, and is a member of the Open Source Initiative and a supporter of Software Freedom Conservancy. Find him on Twitter (@FunnelFiasco) or at FunnelFiasco.com.

11 Comments

"Go kill yourself" - Randi Harper, responding to anyone who criticised her.
"Go die in a fire" - Randi, post ggautoblocker. (seriously, how many times a day?)

Thanks for preventing all that abuse! /s

There is no OAPI, it's just Randi Harper, one of the biggest bullies and abusers online. Take advice from her at your own peril.

In reply to by Lolston Howell (not verified)

We kind of have something similar to this in Europe. It's called No Hate Speech Movement (http://nohatespeechmovement.org/) and it's sponsored by the Council of Europe. Basically it's a bunch of young people committing not to conduct any kind of hate speech -- online or offline.

I've participated in the workshops organized in my hometown by our youth center with the goal of supporting that movement. The workshops were called No Hate Online = No Hate Offline and I learned some amazing facts and heard a lot of interesting stories from my local community about this problem. It completely changed the way I'm thinking and using the Internet. Unfortunately, not a lot of people decided to participate in these workshops, but those of us who did really learned a lot.

Interesting how this "article" came up on the same day as the Breitbart second part story on her. http://www.breitbart.com/big-hollywood/2015/07/02/the-fact-and-fiction-of-randi-harper/

What, THIS Randi Harper?
http://www.breitbart.com/big-journalism/2015/06/29/harping-on-the-hypocrisy-and-lies-of-twitters-most-notorious-anti-abuse-activist-randi-harper-part-1/

LOL okay, well if anyone knows the psychology of Trolling, it's going to be her.

It's disappointing that in the midst of Breitbart London publishing a series of articles exposing Randi's history of abusive behavior online, opensource.com would fail to ask her about any of the very troubling evidence presented by those articles. Instead of asking tough questions that might've shed some light on the controversies currently surrounding Ms. Harper, you've instead published a puff piece so vapid that it would make the editors of Vanity Fair blush.

You'll notice at the end that this article is a part of the speaker interview series. As such, we're only asking questions related to the talk(s) of the person we're interviewing. Those controversies are in no way directly related to her talk (titled Open sourcing anti-harassment tools), therefore, they're not included in this interview.

In reply to by Satoshi Kamasutra (not verified)

You didn't ask her anything about her code, either. What little of that there is.

It's here: https://github.com/oapi and it's all manner of awful. People give her money to do this, it boggles the mind.

In reply to by Aleksandar Todorović

I've been personally called out and public shamed by Harper because she tried to investigate me and pry into my personal life, sending her fans to attack me while calling me profanity-laden names like ***boy and ***stick.

Please explain to me how this constitutes fighting abuse. Thank you and good day.

Harper's one of the biggest bullies on Twitter, why are you giving her a platform for her to lie? She's even cruel to her supposed friends, making them a pariah if they don't conform to her will.

She's sent her hate mob after individuals, including authoer Anne Rice, which can be just bloody googled to see how she behaves. She's told countless people to commit suicide, she doxes. She died her dog blue for Christ's sake. You INSULT the victims of this abomination's abuse by allowing her hypocritical opinions to be spread via Oscon. You utter cowards.

Your self-chosen handle, "Finklebottom Fuckintwat", tells us everything we need to know about your value in this conversation, GamerGator.

In reply to by Lord Finklebot… (not verified)

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