How can we use social media to confront and document gender-based violence?

by Jamie J. Hagen

The Line Campaign and Circleof6 are both excellent examples of how the changing landscape of social media confronts violence against women in new and inventive ways. Our very own Nancy Schwartzman spoke last month on a panel, as part of the 16 Days Campaign Against Gender Violence.

George Washington University’s Global Women’s Institute hosted the panel discussion “The Role of Media and Social Media in Preventing Violence Against Women and Girls” with Nancy Schwartzman along with panelists Liriel Higa, social media strategist at Half the Sky Movement, Shawna Potter, founder of Hollaback Baltimore, Nancy Schwartzman, executive director of the The Line Campaign and developer of Circle of 6; and Caroline D’Angelo, social media editor at The Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting. All four of the women on the panel brought different elements of social media outreach to the table including Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and phone apps.

Liriel Higa discussed how Half the Sky harnesses the power of celebrity and “actress-advocates” to bring attention to violence against women globally. For example, Meg Ryan traveled with the Half the Sky documentary crew to Cambodia to shine a light on sex slavery in the country. However, it’s important to realize that one of the most prominent voices behind Half the Sky is NYT’s columnist Nicholas Kristof whose reporting has garnered much backlash about foreign coverage of poverty and discussion of the White Savior Industrial Complex.

Both the Hollaback app and the Circleof6 app are working as harm reduction tools. Schwartzman sees the ability to get more people involved through social media especially important when it comes to the involvement of men. The Hollaback app is available for free download to then report street crime as it happens where all reports are then vetted by local chapters. As Shawana Potter explains, mobile technology and social media now offer ways to, “leverage technology to bring voice to an issue that historically has been silenced.”

The panelists also addressed ways journalists can better prepare and protect sources during and after they share their stories. Caroline D’Angelo of the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting encouraged training for reporters covering rape and sex crimes, and mentioned the work of the Poynter Center as a valuable resource for journalism ethics in the digital age. During the panel Schwartzman importantly shared her own story of rape and confronting her rapist documented in the movie she directed, The Line. Schwartzman and moderator Frank Sesno discussed how her experience with rape led the activism she now engages in with the The Line and the Circleof6 app.

“But how is social media really evolving journalism?” Sesno wanted to know. D’Angelo explained traditionally women are under-sourced for stories, even those stories about abortion and gender, as illustrated by the gender gap in coverage this 2012 election season. Mary Ellsberg, the director of the Global Women’s Institute concluded social media is evolving our ability to tell stories because now, “women get to frame the story.”

Watch the event streaming hereincluding the panel discussion and a Q & A.

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