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

Jill Dimond, Sassafras Tech Collective
Michaelanne Dye, Georgia Institute of Technology
Daphne LaRose, Georgia Institute of Technology
Amy Bruckman, Georgia Institute of Technology 

“Before reading those stories, and posting, I accepted it as the norm to get harassed all the time.” (Hollaback participant, 2012)

Storytelling is a key tactic long leveraged by social justice activists to reveal the unjust ways that people experience the world. Hollaback, an organization working to end street harassment, invites women and LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bi, Transgendered, Queer) people to share their story of harassment in a collective online space. In our paper, we asked: does sharing a story of harassment online make a difference to an individual or community?

Reclaim the streets

Street harassment is a new term for an old phenomenon. It can include stalking, groping, verbal and physical assault that happens in public space.  Even though there are no population level studies, smaller city-wide studies in the US, Canada, Egypt, and India indicate that it is a pervasive and serious problem. We interviewed people who shared stories of harassment online to understand whether storytelling online impacted them in any way.

We found that by visiting the Hollaback site, participants of our study were able to problematize their experience with street harassment. Before visiting the site, some participants thought that harassment was just a part of life that they had to endure. But by posting their story on Hollaback, participants were able to problematize their terrible experiences and see it as part of a larger injustice.  One participant writes:

 “Posting it did a weird thing to me though…I used to be able to brush off a lot of the stuff I get on the street and at work, because I’ve been getting it consistently since I was in high school, but now I think it means something more to me to be able to just walk down the street and be left alone.”

Posting stories also transformed the way that participants felt and thought about their experience:

“I became more sure in my conviction that I was right to consider what happened was really, really wrong. Not to just accept it as part of life.”

Participants also stated that sharing their story impacted their behavior afterwards:

“But I found myself forcing myself to bring it up and to tell people about it and to, even like, people I wouldn’t normally tell this to, like my Dad… Hollaback cultured my feeling that this should be shared.”

Beyond the individual, the crowd-sourced stories also impacted the actions and direction of the Hollaback organization. For example in New York City, there were many stories about bystanders who failed to help someone being harassed. In response, Hollaback started a Bystander Campaign, where people who witness street harassment can share their story, and are given ways to intervene.

Historically in social movements, organizations and people in positions of power have been influential in defining what the problems are and what to do about it (known as “framing” in social movement theory.) But collective storytelling online allows people who experience injustices to define the problem and provide visions for ways forward.

For more, see our full paper, Hollaback!: The Role of Collective Storytelling Online in a Social Movement Organization

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  1. Pingback: Why Should You Hollaback? | Boston Hollaback!

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