Hollaback!: The Role of Storytelling Online in a Social Movement Organization

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Citation: Jill P. Dimond, Michaelanne Dye, Daphne Larose, and Amy S. Bruckman (2013) Hollaback!: The Role of Storytelling Online in a Social Movement Organization. Proceedings of the 2013 Conference on Computer Supported Cooperative Work (RSS)

doi: 10.1145/2441776.2441831

Download: http://dl.acm.org/citation.cfm?id=2441831

Tagged: Computer Science (RSS) CSCW (RSS), storytelling (RSS), feminist HCI (RSS), HCI (RSS), social movements (RSS), social justice (RSS), emancipatory action research (RSS), systems (RSS), street harassment (RSS), gender (RSS), feminism (RSS), NatematiasGenerals (RSS)


Dimond and colleagues set out to establish an approach to designing technology with social movements that build on existing practices within those movements. This paper describes the Hollaback system, which is deployed by the Hollaback social movement to support people to share online stories about their experiences of street harassment in 50 cities, 18 countries, and 9 languages.

Hollaback's theory of change, rooted in Tarrow's social movement theory and Goffman's frame theory, is that when people tell their stories online, they will "transform" the frame of their story to understand the role of sexism, classism, and racism in the harassment they experience. Hollaback also set out to support participants to "extend" the frame of their experiences to include the experiences and challenges of others.

Methods used by the researchers included emancipatory action research, researcher/practitioner self-disclosure and reflexivity, and qualitative interviews with Hollaback participants. Emancipatory Action Research starts from "working with others towards change" rather than changing others. Rather than a "friendly outsider," Dimond et al co-constructed research and action, taking a political stance and aligning with the people they conduct research with, namely the leaders of Hollaback. Towards self-disclosure and reflexivity, the first and third authors report the Hollaback web platform and mobile apps, helping the organization in a variety of other ways, while the second and fourth authors "helped minimize bias in data collection and analysis."

Qualitative methods involved phone and SMS interviews with 13 US and UK women who submitted stories through the Hollaback website, with six interviews by the first author and seven interviews by an author not involved in Hollaback. Interviews were coded using a grounded theory approach, with axial coding to identify themes.

The paper offers a wide set of findings from women's stories on Hollaback, as well as a wider set of findings related to networked publics and feminist HCI:

  • Women interviewed describe structural impediments to telling their stories before Hollaback, either because they were told to ignore harassment, or because family, friends, and police were not receptive.
  • Interviewed participants extended the frame by diagnosing it as a problem rather than just seeing it as something to accept — supporting each other to extend frames rather than relying on a social movement organization to do it.
  • Participants' frames were also transformed. Posting and reading stories "changed the way that participants thought and felt about their experience both cognitively and emotionally," shifting the burden and blame, reclaiming power in their experiences, in some cases reporting therapeutic benefits, and seeing their experience as a collective issue.
  • The paper poses the idea of Hollaback as a networked public, with a tension between the safe space offered through finding others with similar experiences and the challenges of public visibility.
  • Some participants reported that the experience of telling their stories influenced later responses to harassment, learning to talk back to harassers, sharing their experiences with family, or calling out someone who's harassing others.

The paper reports suggests that crowd-sourced storytelling can offer peer-supported changes in frames rather than a more traditional, centralized, media-oriented approach led by social change organizations. Concealed stories were made visible and stories of resistance were shared, shifting the frame for participants even though the storytellers are anonymous.

The paper concludes with a call for expanded empirical methods to explore the larger impact of these individual frame shifts, and proposes further work to explore collaborative technologies for social change beyond storytelling.

Theoretical and practical relevance:

This paper offers substantial implications for research theory and society at large. The Hollaback intervention demonstrates the value of collective storytelling for offering peer support to people experiencing street harassment to shift how they see their harassment and how they interact with others in respect to their harassment. Theoretically, the paper also offers a powerful approach to conducting HCI work in cooperation with social movements