Organizing Safe Spaces: #MeToo Activism in Sweden
Networked online environments can effectively support political activism. In Sweden, the #metoo movement resulted in over 100,000 people participating in activities challenging sexual harassment and abuse, including collecting testimonies via social media and drafting and discussing petitions published in print news media. Participation involved many risks, such as social stigma, losing one’s job, or misogynist terrorism, which meant that participation required a high level of trust among peers. Human-computer interaction (HCI) research on trust generally focuses on technical systems or user-generated data, less focus has been given to trust among peers in vulnerable communities. This study, based on semi-structured interviews and surveys of participants and organizers of 47 petitions representing different sectors in society, found that trust was aggregated over networks of people, practices, institutions, shared values, and technical systems. Although a supportive culture based on a feeling of solidarity and shared feminist values was central for safe spaces for participation, when activism was scaled up, social interaction had to be limited due to increased risk. HCI research views trust as a process of crossing distances, increasing over time; however, our results reveal that trust decreased over time as the movement grew and public exposure increased, a trend most evident when the participants actually came from a tightly knit community. Therefore, this study points out the significance to balance the need for transparency and community with the need for anonymity and distance in the development of tools to support large-scale deliberative processes that involve conflicts and risks.