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Some 61% of women say online harassment is a problem. Google Jigsaw wants to give them back control

March 10, 2022, 2:09 PM UTC

Good morning, Broadsheet readers! Women law professors back Ketanji Brown Jackson’s Supreme Court nomination, the woman killed in Ukraine in a now viral photo has been identified as a Silicon Valley startup employee, and big tech takes steps to address online safety. Have a thoughtful Thursday.

– Safety first. Tech giants have been slow to accept responsibility for online harassment and even slower to find solutions. In a 2021 survey by Pew Research, 79% of respondents said social media companies were doing a “fair or poor job” at addressing online harassment and bullying. But some are now stepping up to reduce online harassment.

Google’s tech incubator Jigsaw, which explores threats to open societies, debuted a web application this week called “harassment manager.” The tool allows users to document and manage harassment they experience on digital platforms, starting with Twitter. After conducting research with women journalists and activists who experience frequent and intense harassment online—citing examples like the disinformation campaign faced by Rappler CEO Maria Ressa in the Philippines—the Jigsaw team decided to build a product that would help document instances of harassment.

“Documenting is absolutely essential and foundational to the process of dealing with a harassment incident,” explains Lucy Vasserman, Jigsaw engineering manager for conversation A.I., who led much of the project. “But it’s also emotionally challenging and extremely burdensome.”

Women who use social platforms must contend with a wide range of targeted harassment, including doxxing (or having their address, phone number or other information shared online); receiving misogynistic language and threats daily; having their likeness depicted in fake porn videos; or having stories about them fabricated across social media. Until recently, there hasn’t been a seamless way to log abuses and take action against harassers. “[Women] were taking screenshots and putting them into a Dropbox folder,” says Vasserman. “So we identified a gap in the ecosystem.”

Jigsaw’s harassment manager tool is built with an open API, allowing users to sort and export harmful comments, block other users, and take steps to control their online experience in one place. While the tool is notable because it’s backed by Google, it isn’t the first to tackle the issue of harassment. Software engineer and prominent tech activist Tracy Chou since 2018 has been working on her startup Block Party, a service that aims to give users control over their online experience and manage harassment.

But it seems big tech is finally paying attention to the issue of online safety. In yet another sign, Match Group-owned Tinder deployed Garbo this week, a new platform that allows users to conduct background checks on potential matches. Said Match Group head of safety and social advocacy Tracy Breeden in a statement: “For far too long women and traditionally marginalized groups have faced many barriers to resources and safety.”

Background checks in online dating and gendered harassment of women online are two separate issues, but Match Group and Google taking action on both shows that tech giants are taking online safety seriously. Women have been calling for action on these problems for years, and it’s about time Big Tech started pitching in.

Emma Hinchliffe
emma.hinchliffe@fortune.com
@_emmahinchliffe

The Broadsheet is Fortune’s newsletter for and about the world’s most powerful women. Subscribe here.

ALSO IN THE HEADLINES

- Lawyer up. A group of 850 women law professors sent a letter to Senate leadership expressing their support for Ketanji Brown Jackson's nomination to the Supreme Court, the White House tells Fortune. "Ketanji Brown Jackson belongs where the most important decisions are being made, and we urge swift confirmation of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson as an Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court," the letter said. 

- Ukraine updates. The photo caused outrage around the world: it depicted a Ukrainian mother and her children lying on the ground, killed by Russian mortar fire while trying to flee. Now, Silicon Valley startup SE Ranking says the image showed their employee, 43-year-old Tatiana Perebeinis, who worked as the company's chief accountant; Ukraine's First Lady Olena Zelenska wrote an open letter on Tuesday recounting the "mass murder of Ukrainian civilians"; Ukrainian authorities say Russia bombed a maternity and children's hospital; Bumble, led by CEO Whitney Wolfe Herd, is removing its dating apps from app stores in Russia and ally Belarus. The app Badoo, now part of parent company Bumble, is widely used in Europe and was founded by Russian billionaire Andrey Andreev. 

- Remembering RBG. In an op-ed for Fortune, Ally Coll, founder of the anti-sexual harassment organization the Purple Campaign, writes that honoring Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg's legacy means protecting federal judiciary employees from sexual harassment. While the judiciary maintains that it is committed to a safe workplace for all employees, it believes additional legal protections for its workers are unnecessary and would undermine its “need for independence,” Coll writes. Fortune

- Stock slide. Stitch Fix stock reached an all-time low of $8.75 after its most recent earnings. The personal shopping service, founded by Katrina Lake and now led by CEO Elizabeth Spaulding, slashed its full-year forecast. CNBC

MOVERS AND SHAKERS: Jen Olson joins networking software company Arrcus as VP of finance and HR. NEXT Insurance hired insurtech exec Jennifer Lawrence as general counsel. B Lab, the group behind B Corp certification, named Eleanor Allen lead executive. Kimberly Steinberg was named managing director, head of business development and investor relations for Transwestern Investment Group. Stash hired former Zoom chief people officer Lynne Oldham in the same role.

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT

- Travel ban. Missouri State Rep. Mary Elizabeth Coleman, a Republican, introduced legislation proposing a new kind of abortion restriction that allows people to sue anyone who helps a pregnant person get an abortion out of state. A Planned Parenthood spokesperson calls the measure "the most extraordinary provision we have ever seen." Washington Post

- Unequal pay = real consequences. Brittney Griner's detention in Russia is a reminder of why she was there in the first place: the relatively low salaries paid to even the WNBA's biggest stars (the max player salary, earned by Griner, is $222,000). WNBA stars often play in Europe in the off-season to earn extra money, and those opportunities are often in Russia. Guardian

- Crypto view. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen earlier this week posted a statement that included some details about the Biden administration's crypto policy. The statement was posted before President Joe Biden's executive order on crypto yesterday. But bitcoin surged 8% after Yellen's statement. Yellen said the crypto policy "strikes the right balance between encouraging responsible innovation and addressing potential risks to consumers and the broader financial system." Fortune

ON MY RADAR

Pixar's Turning Red has the cleverest take on puberty The Atlantic

The high point of my career came with a physical breakdown The Cut

‘Money always matters’: The Kardashians tell all about their new reality TV reign Variety

The brilliance of adapting Elena Ferrante for the screen Financial Times

PARTING WORDS

"We wanted to be in combat zones. We were as courageous as the men."

-War correspondent Christine Spengler, who covered the war in Vietnam and Cambodia in the 1970s. Her work is part of a new exhibit at the Museum of the Liberation of Paris called "Women War Photographers."

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