I assume by the time you read this that the world will have forgotten Neil deGrasse Tyson was a giant dick about mass shootings, but it happened, and I drew this.
Most everyone agrees that online harassment is a major problem in need of an immediate solution, but in the hunt for trolls, some are too quick to dismiss legitimate concerns about free speech.
(Cross-posted at Medium)
In the wake of the GamerGate blowup, most of America is aware of our epidemic of online harassment. Unrepentant trolls on Twitter, Facebook, and similar services exploit anonymity and the ease of creating sockpuppet accounts to stalk, threaten, dox, and torment victims, even driving some to the point of suicide. But while activists rightly raise alarms about the problem, their proposed solutions often carry the risk of limiting the free speech and expression that make the Internet so powerful.
Writing at Boing Boing, for example, Glenn Fleishman explores Twitter’s problem with serial offenders, known trolls who have been banned but then return thanks to Twitter’s failure to enforce their own policy against serial accounts. Roughly two-thirds through the piece, Fleishman leaps abruptly to a rather dramatic conclusion: “the fight for anonymous speech ends when promotion of it is inexorably and demonstrably linked to enabling harassers.” Continue Reading
In the years before the Internet, engaging in public debate and discussion required time and effort. One might print books or pamphlets, post flyers, speak into a bullhorn, or speak at some public forum. Each of these decisions, barring specific measures to preserve anonymity, carried certain risks of consequence–including, in many cases, prosecution, imprisonment, or execution. “We must all hang together,” Ben Franklin famously quipped at the signing of the Declaration of Independence, “or assuredly we shall all hang separately.”
The advent of the Internet, and particularly social networks, has made public speech exponentially faster and more accessible. To enter public debate today requires only a web browser and a few taps at a keyboard or smartphone screen. Perhaps because of the speed and ease with which we can now communicate, many who choose to enter the public dialog fail to consider the potential consequences for their actions–but those consequences remain, and they can be severe.
When Justine Sacco, a PR exec with less than 200 followers, tweeted a racist HIV joke before a flight to Africa, she probably didn’t consider that she would rise to top the Trending Topics and ultimately lose her job. Online activist Suey Park seemed unprepared for the backlash against her #CancelColbert tweet, and the originator of the #YesAllWomen hashtag was so traumatized by the abuse she received that she now chooses anonymity.
I have argued before, in the wake of the “Twitter Block Scandal,” that choosing to use social media, and Twitter in particular, is a choice to be a public figure. In a post this week on Medium, Anil Dash presents a different view, arguing that modern concepts of “public” and “private” are antiquated and unsuited for the digital age, that social network users are exploited by the media and technology industries for profit, and that legislators and policy-makers are complicit in this exploitation. Continue Reading
There’s been a fair amount of controversy recently over Twitter’s “block” function. In mid-December, Twitter made and announced a change to the way blocking worked. The ensuing uproar, which prompted Twitter to revert the change less than a day later, continues to this day. Critics accuse Twitter of failing to protect victims of bullying and harassment—but the reaction really reveals more about the way people misunderstand Twitter, and social networking in general.
It may help to understand how Twitter blocking presently works (which is how it’s worked since the beginning), and how the brief change altered things. This article does a good job of explaining the change, and Twitter’s statement explains why they changed it back.
The block function many users demand [which for the record has never existed] would prevent a blocked user from seeing any of the blockee’s tweets or pictures under any circumstances. There are good reasons to want this function—like most of the Internet, Twitter is plagued with terrible people who enjoy victimizing others, and people deserve protection from harassment and bullying. There are, however, good reasons the block feature cannot do this. Continue Reading