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This startup provides health insurance against online harassment

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16.05.2019

Anyone who’s spent some time on Twitter knows that vilification and personal attacks–as extreme as threats of rape and murder–are a standard feature of some people’s online lives. And Twitter is peewee league in comparison to virulent hate communities on platforms like 4chan, 8chan, and Kiwi Farms.

“God damn, asians have soulless lizard eyes,” wrote user “Anonymous,” in, of all things, 4Chan’s Television & Film discussion group in April. Another anonymous comment says, “I propose almost all current ‘problems’ could be solved by chaining all women (including wannabes) to the next stove.”

They are talking about Liz Fong-Jones, one of the Google employees who went public in 2018 with charges of harassment and intimidation from coworkers over diversity advocacy. Even before that, she was a well-known advocate for the transgender community–and the subject of online harassment.

The stakes are much higher than hurt feelings. In June 2018, transgender indie game developer Chloe Sagal, who struggled with mental illness and was a frequent target on the site Kiwi Farms, committed suicide in Portland Oregon.

Security engineer Leigh Honeywell has seen a lot of cruel treatment of friends and colleagues over the years, in both virtual attacks and real-life sexual harassment and assault. While working day jobs at places like Slack, Microsoft, and the ACLU, she also applied her skills on the side to help victims and potential victims “lock down” their online presence from attacks like “doxxing,” in which troves of personal information are posted online.

After years of providing help ad hoc and pro bono, Honeywell decided back in 2014 that she could help a lot more people by turning her efforts into a business, sold as a service that companies can provide as an employee benefit. In April 2018, she and business partner, Logan Dean, put the plan into action by founding a company called Tall Poppy.

“I can’t prevent people from yelling at you on Twitter,” she tells me. “What I do is prevent that yelling from escalating into hacking into your accounts.”

That hacking can range from impersonating the victim in social media posts to obtaining and publishing information that points would-be attackers to the victim or their family’s home address. “My health records have been posted online,” says Fong-Jones, “as have a lot of my personally-identifying information as far as places I’ve worked, places my partner’s worked, the hobbies that I do–alongside people deciding, which gun are they going to pick to shoot the tranny.”

Honeywell and Dean chose the name Tall Poppy based on a metaphor that dates back to Roman times. “The idea of tall poppy syndrome is that…anyone who becomes prominent in their field or in politics or whatever, they get cut down,” says Honeywell. “So we protect the tall poppies.”

“I specifically asked her like, literally, ‘How much money can I give you? Like how much money can you possibly absorb?'” says Liz Fong-Jones, recalling her response in August 2018 when Honeywell asked her to be an advisor to the company. She ultimately invested $200,000.

Together with funding from other angel investors, including Inner Loop Capital, Tall Poppy has now raised just over a million dollars. And the company had already served........

© Fast Company