Study On Women & Online Harassment
Kapwing’s cofounder had a rather rude awakening when she launched her website and used her image on the customer service chat widget. Julia Enthoven also used her actual name as well.
Though the website became increasingly popular with over 64,000 users checking out its video editing tools, Enthoven and her team were eager to get feedback about how the tool was functioning and what might be some of its bugs. In addition, hear about any additional features to enhance the program.
To effectively collect and respond to these queries Kapwing utilized one of Drift’s, another company, messaging applications. Upon launching their webpage, users would be greeted by a pop up at the bottom of the screen. They would see Enthoven’s image. After clicking the picture, users would see a message that prompted users to share their questions and comments.
This did not take long to launch a barrage of comments from users of the website. What was surprising and disturbing though was how vile some of majority of the comments were. For multiple times for the day, Julia would receive a message that had nothing to do with the product and more to do with her features. Furthermore, these comments were often abusive
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They were filled with any number of inappropriate sayings. She was harassed, heckled, received nude photos as well as unwanted or mean comments about her looks. This was initially not as intrusive on the founder, but after a while, they began to take their toll. She appeared nonchalant about the whole fiasco, but that exterior crashed one morning she arrived at work, when there was a barrage of abusive messages waiting for her.
Julia then decided to study this situation. She put on her scientist’s hat and launched out. The team created and utilized various images and names to represent the company, as an avatar. The initial research was conducted over a three month period. During that time, they had 2100 user response and as expected many of them were inappropriate or abusive. The data proved more empirically sound than the impersonal versions currently on the market.
Kapwing was able to identify certain patterns and recognized what was the more prevalent conditions in which abuse occurred. By and large, women were the primary target. Enthoven found out that if you were not a man or an androgynous feline, you were sure to receive online abuse.
So they contemplated afterwards, how then could they minimize if not completely eliminate the instances of abuse. They could not very well block the abuse users, because that would affect the essential user count information that was needed. At the end of the day, they still wanted to encourage users to provide feedback on the product.
Eric Lu was the answer. Julia decided the post the co-founders picture, rather than her own, and this literally eliminated the instances of abuse. Enthoven surmised, “Maybe I knew this in the back of my head, but it was still shocking to me that the effect was so dramatic.” When they did their tally at the end of the week, one user alone had said anything derogatory.
The company made one further change to study the reaction of users, again. They posted another photo of a female. It was a blonde model’s image, named ‘Rachel Gray’. To no one’s surprise, the abuse restarted in earnest and increased 50 times more than it was when Julia used her image.
Enthoven wrote on her blog that “People asked her to go on dates, demanded that she share nude photos and pleaded for all kinds of sexual favors. People called her names, cursed her out, asked her where she lived, and threatened her and the website. Meanwhile, lewd messages came in from all over the world.”
To resolve the issue, Kapwing has used the image of their company cat, aptly named Team Kapwing. Since then, they have had no further instances of verbal abuse.