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Civic Tech initiatives
Organisation responsible for case study:
Name: Plan International and Feminist Internet
Anti-harassment, Feminist, Gender
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Maru: Lifting voices against online harassment
Main Project Location: London
Project country/countries: Benin, Cameroon, Ghana, South Africa
Project dates: 2020 –
Last updated: 23 Mar 2022
Brief overview of the Case Study
Maru is an anti-harassment chatbot designed by young people for young people to address abuse on social media. The chatbot launched in November 2020 in a collaboration between girls’ right organisation Plan International and technology collective Feminist Internet. The chatbot was designed to support girls and women who are experiencing, witnessing, or tackling online harassment by providing real advice and resources from experts and activists. Maru means ‘cloud space’ in Sesotho, a name given by one of the activists.
The challenge or problem
A landmark research done by Plan International, reveals that nearly half (42%) of girls lose self-esteem or self-confidence, or feel mentally or emotionally stressed after being exposed to online harassment.
The solution that was implemented
The chatbot is a continuation of Plan International’s work exposing issues of harassment and abuse girls and young women face on social media. The organisation’s survey online survey included 14000 girls from 22 countries where more than half (58) revealed that they had been harassed or abused online.
When creating the chatbot, Feminist Internet encouraged the youth activists to make sure:
Language used was empathetic and inclusive
Maru represents global perspectives
Barriers people may face in accessing Maru have been addressed
Maru’s appearance does not reinforce stereotypes
Plan International collaborated with Feminist Internet on a series of multilingual workshops with young activists around the world to design a creative tool to address the issue of online harassment. This process included young activists from Benin, Ghana, Cameroon, Nepal, South Africa, and Germany who are passionate about promoting internet freedom and safety.
What technology was used?Chatbot
What results were achieved?
Sessi, one of the youth co-creators from Benin, said: “We showed people the problems we face online and, in our lives, then we offered a solution: Maru. We all have different backgrounds and contexts but think Maru will be appreciated across all contexts for its fluid and functional experiences.”
Charlotte Webb, Feminist Internet Co-founder, said: “The youth activists who co-designed Maru were an inspiration, and it was incredible to work with them on such a creative response to the increasing problem of online harassment. “They provided us with a concept and direction that reflected their real concerns about harassment and steered the conversation design so that Maru would speak to a global community.
Lessons and recommendations
“It is so exciting to see technology development being guided by feminist design principles to help make the internet a safer place for everyone.” Charlotte Webb added. Another of the co-creators, Arouna from Cameroon, said: “Girls and women need to feel safe when they are on social networks. Gender-based violence against them on digital platforms must be condemned.”
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