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Richson: Ending online harassment

BY BRIANNE RICHSON | NOVEMBER 13, 2014 5:00 AM

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Social networking and the Internet in general continue to redefine personal privacy and interpersonal boundaries. We can stay up-to-date on old friends we haven’t seen in years thanks to social media, fostering unprecedented connectedness, yet the Internet is also capable of bringing out the nastiest in users because sitting behind a lit screen gives many people an exacerbated sense of their own personal power. Suddenly, any filter goes out the window.

Many sites caught on quickly to the reality that their users were being harassed; on Facebook you are always free to “unfriend,” and on Instagram you are free to block people from viewing or commenting on your photos. Not surprisingly, Twitter has its own privacy and blocking measures in place as well. I know I often spend an amount of time I’d rather not disclose reading the public replies to celebrities’ tweets and wondering how anyone in such a public forum could feel safe when half of the general response can consist of a vile, hateful funnel of incoherence onto their newsfeed.

Which is exactly why Twitter has now teamed up with the advocacy group Women, Action, & the Media in order to combat harassment specifically on its pages.

According to the Pew Research Internet Project, 25 percent of respondents had witnessed someone physically threatened online. The same research also indicated that 4 out of 10 internet users have experienced online harassment of some degree and also specified young women as the more likely victims of what constitutes the higher degrees of harassment: online stalking or forms of sexual harassment.

Far from the grass-roots Facebook premise of having to be invited to join a social-media site by someone you knew who was already a part of the social network, major perpetrators of online harassment are known by Internet jargon as “trolls,” and it is undeniably easy for these people to create countless accounts attached to various emails in order to harass on as widespread a platform as possible. Seeking to fill in the cracks where Twitter has failed to crack down on trolls, Women, Action, & the Media has paired with the site to create a more detailed abuse reporting tool, even allowing an option to put in links to specific tweets in the report.

Additionally, the report allows victims to personally put a label on what kind of harassment they are experiencing. I think that being able to define your own perceived experience of abuse is incredibly important; no one should be able to dictate what has and has not been harmful to you. And as the Internet seems to become more and more faceless, keeping harassers’ boundaries in check will become a more pressing public issue.


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