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CiviliNation founder Andrea Weckerle is quoted in the news.com.au story Cyber bullying against adults: A victim’s story.
It’s disheartening to realize that some people believe that online speech which isn’t legally actionable is automatically socially benign. In other words, if it’s not illegal, so their thinking goes, it must be ok. But while law and ethics overlap, they are not synonymous. There are plenty of laws that are antiquated or downright idiotic. And there is plenty of online speech that is legal yet unquestionably unfairly harmful to targets and victims. One of the biggest problems that attacking and hateful speech causes is the resulting silencing of others.
While there may not be physical or legal halting of targets’ or victims’ ability to continue to engage online, the psychological effects of the threats or attacks nevertheless place shackles on them. There may not be any outward signs, but the deleterious effects are as strong as if they were physically bound.
Recognition of this fact was an important force in the creation of CiviliNation’s mission “to foster an online culture where every person can freely participate in a democratic, open, rational and truth-based exchange of ideas and information, without fear or threat of being the target of unwarranted abuse, harassment or lies.”
The silencing effect is fortunately now starting to be addressed by the media. The recent Salon article Women’s free speech is under attack* by Kelly Diels states that “the threats and trolling women receive online silence them just as effectively as any censorship.”
Diels goes on to explain that the “coordinated campaigns of trolling, doxing and Ddos attacks are explicitly designed not only to silence you, but also to embarrass you, scare you, harass you, get government agencies to investigate you, vandalize your property, make you move, get you fired, ruin your life.”
Suggestions for addressing the problem vary. On Twitter, for example, one of the most abuse-prone platforms currently online, it ranges from creating a Twitter button that would make the reporting of threats and abuse easier (something we previously discussed here) to actively blocking attackers via the Block Bot, which describes itself as “Helping you ignore people from annoyance to bigot on Twitter.” (Block Bot features three different blocking levels, from Level 1 which deals with the worst trolls, as well as impersonators and stalkers, to Level 3 which deals with individuals who might not be actual haters but are nevertheless obnoxious.) Meanwhile, journalist Quinn Norton argues that having conversations about the root causes of the hatred* behind the online attacks is critical: “It’s not always a pleasant conversation, but we need to have it. Just shutting down the voices we don’t like doesn’t make the sentiments go away.”
We agree that in addition to technological tools that can help people protect themselves against vicious online attacks, education is vital. We need to teach people how to create a strong online reputation, how to monitor their online footprint, how to safeguard their privacy and personal information, how to effectively engage with others (and how to effectively disengage), and teach people what their legal rights are.
* NOTE: While the sources mentioned here focus on online attacks against women, a group that continues to bear much of the brunt of online hatred, attacks are unfortunately not limited to this group. Attacks are also aimed at other vulnerable individuals or groups, or those otherwise perceived as particularly socially threatening.
(Photo source: “Rage” by SignorDeFazio http://www.flickr.com/photos/37912579@N08/3650954991
CiviliNation founder Andrea Weckerle and her book Civility In The Digital Age: How Companies and People Can Triumph over Haters, Trolls, Bullies, and Other Jerks are featured in the Alumni Profile piece “Taming trolls and other online jerks, Andrea Weckerle, L’96” in the Summer 2013 edition of the University of Richmond School of Law Alumni Magazine.
The day after speaking at the Y’all Connect conference in Birmingham, Alabama, I took part in a tour of some of the amazing historical and cultural sights of Birmingham, courtesy of the conference and the Greater Birmingham Convention & Visitors Bureau. Among other things, the tour featured stops at the 16th Street Baptist Church and the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute. Seeing where people fought for freedom and equality, and even lost their lives, was a moving and sobering experience.
2013 marks the 50th anniversary of the American Civil Rights Movement in Birmingham, which lead up to the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. As a society, fortunately we’ve seen great progress made in the past several decades, but it’s obvious that much still remains to be done. That’s why important events such as last year’s Civil Rights and Hate Crimes Symposium are taking place where the evolution of civil rights, how to prosecute hate crimes, and the best methods for bullying prevention and response are grappled with and discussed.
Education is a huge part of bringing about necessary behavioral and legal changes. That’s why at CiviliNation, we take very seriously our role in helping bring about positive social change. We hope you’ll continue to support us in our efforts.
And we hope you’ll consider making a contribution to the creation of the Academy for Online Conflict Management. UPDATE: The Indigogo campaign is over, but the fundraising is far from over. You can give by clicking on the big button.
(Image of Andrea Weckerle taking a photo of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights at the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, courtesy of Ike Pigott.)
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