Interview Date: 3 March 2015
Name and Bio:
Jill Dimond, PhD, considers herself a scholar maker and activist. She received her BSE in Computer Science from the University of Michigan. During that time, she “was confronted with a lot of sexism in text spaces” and so her “passion for feminism and technology” began. She started a student organisation for women in computer science.
In her early twenties, she worked a few years for large corporations such as Microsoft and Amazon where she experienced cases of ‘really bad’ sexual harassment. She “was really interested in turning [her] experience into trying to understand what was going on and to try to help fix the problem”. So she started her PhD in computing science education, but soon she realised this couldn’t give her the support she needed. So she decided to focus on social computing and “started exploring the relationship of technology and drivers of domestic violence” and “gender-based violence more broadly”. Her PhD project became entwined with Hollaback! when the person developing a GPS based app for the site had to leave, and Jill took over. As a result, she not only became the lead developer of the app, but used this experience as data for her PhD.
Involvement with Campaigns:
Jill Dimond was the lead developer behind Hollaback’s websites and mobile app which allows users to collect and ‘map’ stories using GPS technology. She also later developed the infrastructure for the local branch websites to get built.
Prior to Hollaback, her activism was more focused on “creating groups and support for women in text spaces.” Since then, she has carried this principle forward and is a co-founder of a tech collective called Sassafras, which specialises in ‘web/app design and development for social justice organizations, non-profits, academics, artists and more.’
At the time of our interview in 2015, Jill, along with Hollaback! were waiting to hear back about the outcome of a grant proposal for to get funding to address the issue of online harassment. Shortly after out interview, the grant was approved and the HeartMob project was born. The concept of the project is to “crowd source support and action” on cases of online harassment. This involves community users reaching out to other community members for the exact type of support they need when they need it.
As Jill explained: “People who are being harassed are able to sign up and make a request to people they know, or possibly people they don’t know, to do a lot of the labour that goes into managing online harassment. So that means documenting, submitting reports, blocking people. There is an incredible amount of work that you need to do to prevent online harassment if you’re being targeted. And as well as providing emotional support.”
Trolling and strategies:
Jill considers herself ‘fortunate’ that she hasn’t received any trolling lately. However, she credits this to precautions she now takes as a result of early trolling experiences in her undergraduate degree. This involved having her personal “home page turned to a picture of a penis in a hat”. These early experiences have made her “really conservative” online and she is very careful what she shares about herself. For example, she generally has “very high privacy settings,” and she is very careful with photos and with what she shares on Twitter. For example, her feminist posts tend to be more academic than personal. On the one hand, she find “it’s really unfortunate because [she] would love to be more personal and vulnerable online, but to me it’s just not worth” the risk.
In terms of troll management strategies she says:
“So usually on Twitter, I don’t bother [blocking] unless I know the person. I feel like sometimes I’ve had issues on Facebook with relatives or people with opposing views. And that’s a real consideration of how much energy I have and if I view myself as doing ally work or not. So from blocking people, I have a harder time on Facebook when I know people. But, you know, it takes a lot of energy, it really does, figuring out when you’re going to engage or what you have time for, or what you feel like is doing activism in everyday life, or if it’s just like, yeah, I don’t have space for this right now.”
Self- care strategies:
As indicated in the quote above, Jill finds activism can be really tiring, emotional and affective work, so she makes sure that she has “a very good self-care practice in place”, such as yoga. She also has a meditation support group among some like- minded feminist professionals that is very important to her.
On why she became involved with Hollaback!
“So I was trying to, like, navigate all these different needs for research for what people on the ground needed. And I found that balance with Hollaback because what they were doing was novel, technologically speaking and socio-technically. So that was a good fit. So I was looking for a way in which to apply my feminism to create something, but there hasn’t been a lot of feminist technologists and really didn’t know what that would mean.”
On the relationship between on and offline harassment:
“So it’s interesting, because online harassment is so prevalent. And I’ve dealt with it and there’s not…the problem with only addressing street harassment or online harassment is that you obviously don’t want to enforce that there’s a dichotomy, that online harassment happens as well as offline.”
On the importance of having local activists:
“So I felt like Twitter and Facebook has been enormous for Hollaback in the blogs, but also I can’t imagine that working as well if we didn’t have local activists on the ground in their cities, really organising their own communities and speaking to their own issues.
On the importance of social media for marginalized voices:
“Twitter has been an amazing space for a lot of people who have historically been underrepresented in the press in access to general publications and platforms.”
Jill is the only ‘organiser’ we interviewed who was involved in the creation of digital infrastructures used to challenge harassment, sexism and misogyny. As a long-time feminist and technically savvy individual, Jill provided an interesting perspective on the crucial role technologies can not only be used to harass women, but can be turned around to challenge these misogynistic and often traumatic practices. Jill’s interview is also perhaps one of the best exemplifiers of the affective labour involved in (digital) feminist activism. From her own experiences with trolling, and management strategies on how to avoid being a target, Jill recognizes the power and need for a collective of people to challenge abuse. As Jill states, the totality of this efforts is signified in her statement that ‘it takes a lot of energy, it really does,’ even figuring out whom to engage with, block or ignore.
While this activist work is fulfilling and important, Jill also noted that ‘it’s really tiring. It is a lot of emotional work and I really have to be careful about what I take on.’ This raises enduring questions about activists ability to continue this work in the long-term – a persistent theme amongst our findings.