Stop Harassment: The chrome extension the internet needs

Last weekend was the Lesbians Who Tech Summit in New York a tech conference for Queer Women featuring badass speakers like Megan Smith (CTO of the United States) and Tania Katan (Creator of #ItWasNeverADress). Saturday’s schedule included a Social Good Hackathon featuring an Uplift project: Stop Harassment.

If you’re not familiar with hackathons, they do not refer to “hacking” in the person-furiously-types-binary-into-computer-now-you’ve-broken-into-a-building sense of the word. Hackathons are events where people gather to prototype technical solutions to real world problems.

All four hackathon groups. In addition to Uplift, teams worked on projects for NASA, Think Of Us, and Reboot Safety.

The Motivation

A 2014 Pew Research study found that 40 percent of Americans have been harassed online. And that harassment is disproportionately aimed and women, people of color, and the LGBTQIA+ community. In other words, online harassment works to silence already marginalized groups.

You’ve probably heard about Leslie Jones signing off Twitter after facing harassment in reaction to the new Ghostbusters movie or #GamerGate, or Melissa Anelli’s experience with cyberbullying for over eight years. Online platforms usually allow a user to block a harasser, and in Leslie’s case Twitter permanently banned the user responsible. But in most cases banning one user only spawns more harasser accounts. The solution needs to rely on blocking content not users.

To be clear, we are not advocating for the censorship of legitimate criticism. We are referring to death threats or rape threats and homophobic, transphobic, fatphobic, misogynistic, or racist slurs.

The Project

Stop Harassment is a Chrome Extension that removes harassing words in tweets and swaps them out for funny or affirming phrases.

The chrome extension in action

For example, this tweet from #GamerGate (CW: misogynistic language/stalking threats)

could be replaced with

Though there is also an option to remove offensive messages entirely.

Users can add or remove words/phrases from their blocked list and whitelist certain users. For example, you may think it’s acceptable for your lesbian friends to use the word ‘dyke’, but no one else.

Wireframes demonstrating the settings page. If, hypothetically, you found the words “chickens”, “double rainbow”, “pony” to be offensive.

The Team

The best hackathons are about learning and though no one on our team knew how to build a chrome extension before starting the project — in under 5 hours we had a working prototype with UX visualizations.

Uplift is extremely grateful to the following people for their hard work at the hackathon:

  • Sam Hankins (UX Design)
  • Katherine Hanson (UX Design)
  • Taylor Banning (Data Analysis)
  • Bejal Lewis (Parsing Twitter and removing harassing content, Javascript)
  • Bradley Dettmer (Parsing Twitter and removing harassing content, Javascript)
  • Christine Lio (Chrome Extension UI, HTML/CSS)

What’s next?

For obvious reasons our team was unable to perfectly implement the extension in under five hours. This hackathon was just the beginning but provided a great foundation of code and ideation to take forward. The code is available on GitHub and anyone is welcome to contribute. When it becomes more stable, we’ll release.

Future work includes:

  • Integration with a sophisticated backend for detecting harassing content
  • Firefox and Safari extensions
  • Hiding harassing images in addition to content
  • Support for Tumblr, Instagram, Email, Hangouts, and everywhere people send messages online.
  • A mobile-friendly solution

Uplift’s next Hackathon will be WHACK: Wellesley Hacks. If you’re registered, we hope to see you there!

Otherwise, Uplift is currently recruiting for our Winter Tech Task Force and we hope to attend many more hackathons in the future. Contact us if you’d like to see us at your next hackathon.

All four teams after a successful day of hacking!