Introducing Squadbox, a tool to fight online harassment with friends.
Hi there! Welcome to our new blog. We plan to use this to keep the world up to date on the progress of Squadbox, a tool we’re building to help people experiencing online harassment by having their friends moderate their messages. Keep reading for information on: our motivation behind the project, how Squadbox works, who we are, and what we need help with/how you can get involved. Stay tuned later this week for a post about our experience at MozFest!
Online harassment has become an increasingly prevalent issue — according to recent reports by Data & Society and the Pew Research Center, nearly half of internet users in the United States have experienced some form of online harassment or abuse. Unfortunately, solutions for combating harassment have not kept up. Common technical solutions such as user blocking and word-based filters are blunt tools that cannot cover many forms of harassment, and can be circumvented by determined harassers.
Recently, researchers have tried to use machine learning models to detect harassment, but these models are imperfect. Given the strong evidence that automated tools are ineffective on their own, we propose that a better alternative is to continue engaging humans in the moderation process. However, while human moderators already make up many of the reporting pipelines for platforms, harassment targets cannot currently count on platform action to shield them from harassment.
We conducted interviews with several targets of online harassment, and found that without existing effective solutions within platforms, targets often turn to the help of friends, using techniques such as giving friends password access to rid their inboxes of harassment, or forwarding unopened emails to friends to moderate. This motivates the design and implementation of tools like Squadbox, that is able to work externally from platforms to combat harassment.
How It Works
People experiencing harassment sign up and create squads, and invite their friends or other trusted individuals to become moderators for their squad. The “owner” of the squad can set up filters to automatically forward potentially harassing incoming content to Squadbox’s moderation pipeline. When an email arrives for moderation, a moderator makes an assessment, adding annotations and rationale where needed. The message is then handled in a manner according to the owner’s preference, such as having the email delivered with a special tag, placed in a particular folder, or discarded.
There are two ways you can use Squadbox, as shown below:
Currently, Squadbox only works with email messages. We have plans to work on integrating it with other platforms like Twitter in the near future!
Who We Are
Squadbox began as a research project in The Haystack Group at MIT CSAIL, led by Kaitlin Mahar, Amy X Zhang, and David Karger. The tool is currently in beta, and now we’re now working on getting it secure and reliable enough for an actual release. We’re seeking collaborators, testers, and users. Keep reading for information on how to get involved with the project!
Future Plans & How to Get Involved
We’re working on making Squadbox more featureful, making it more secure and reliable, and integrating it with communication platforms besides email. The tool is currently in beta, but we’d like to release it widely to the public. Additionally, we’re working on writing documentation and gathering resources for people experiencing harassment, and for the people who might serve as their moderators.
We’re looking for anyone who is passionate about this issue to help us build and improve Squadbox! We need programmers to help us code, designers to improve the interface and user experience, and people with experience and knowledge about online harassment and moderation to help guide our design choices, create resources for owners and moderators, etc.
If you’re interested in helping out in any way, we’d love to work with you! Our GitHub page is a good place to start getting an idea of our current tasks and priorities (repo, issues, our current milestone). Also please feel free to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you know anyone who might be interested in the project please pass this on!