Recruit Your Friends To Stop Online Harassment

Recruit Your Friends To Stop Online Harassment

A new tool recently released by a research team at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory offers a novel way to fight online harassment: getting your trusted friends to help keep unwanted emails out of your account.

Even if you aren’t a minor Internet celebrity, an opinionated social media star with a big following, or a super-popular streamer, it’s possible that you’ve suffered harassment online — possibly even a lot of harassment — if people who don’t like you or your opinions dox your personal email address. While great inbox filters can help you stop a small stream of terrible emails, you might need more firepower if you’re facing an avalanche each day (and still want to receive emails from unknown, but legitimate people).

The service from the MIT team, Squadbox, works pretty simply. Instead of giving out your real email address in a public website, forum, or video stream, you use your Squadbox email account instead. That, or if you’re already been publishing your real email address, you can set up filters to forward potentially problematic emails to a “squad” of helpers you’ve set up. As Squadbox’s creators describe:

“When an email arrives for moderation, a moderator makes an assessment, adding annotations and rationale where needed. The message is then handled in a manner according to the owner’s preference, such as having the email delivered with a special tag, placed in a particular folder, or discarded.”

Recruit Your Friends To Stop Online Harassment
Screenshot: David Murphy

When I set up a test account, I found it pretty easy to build a “squad” by inviting friends and giving them a helpful description of the kind of content I do (and do not want) to see in my email inbox. Squadbox can automatically reject any emails with attachments, useful if jerks are sending you unwanted pictures or files, and it’s easy to add your Gmail contacts to Squadbox’s whitelist just to make sure that authentic emails are never accidentally blocked by the ‘box — or your moderation time.

I didn’t see a way to set up a direct @Squadbox email address, but that’s probably a feature that will roll out at a later date — that, or you have to contact Squadbox directly to have them set one up for you. As Squadbox notes, the entire system is still in beta testing, so you can likely expect to see more features and improvements as the team refines the (free) service.

Nevertheless, it’s an interesting concept — assuming you have friends who are willing to help go to bat against the Internet’s very worst. That, or you don’t mind paying some buddies to help you fight off an avalanche of crappy emails on a daily basis.

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