Thursday, January 08, 2015

EFF addresses online harassment as very difficult to deal with in practice

In the wake of the attacks in France, Electronic Frontier Foundation today has a short piece  by Sophia Cope and Jillian York, but a much longer and I think more pertinent piece “Facing the Challenge of Online Harassment”, by Nadia Kayyali and Danny O’Brien, link here . The article discusses the right problem: it’s not occasional snarky comments, but the possibility that controversial content attracts the hostility of the wrong individual or group, very often an interest that experiences the world from an authoritarian, and often (but not always) fundamentally religious perspective.  Sometimes the authoritarianism is representative of the extreme right (racist or homophobic views) or extreme left (overwrought indignation about “exploitation”), or some kind of statist “nationalism” (Vladimir Putin’s mentality).    
EFF points out (as did a comparable piece by Peter Bergen on CNN, linked on my International Issues blog Wednesday night) that the practical consequences for people have sometimes been severe, and beyond the pale of law, such as being driven “off the web” or even forced to change hiding – with witness protection and changed identities as the outlier.  In fact, the 2006 Lifetime film by Timothy Bond, “Family in Hiding” is one of the most difficult to watch I have ever encountered.  I am reminded of the song by Otto Blucker, “Find You”, where Belgian actor Timo Descamps sings “Hiding isn’t what we do; hiding isn’t what we’re made for, even when the pain goes through, we survive” (link ). 
EFF also points out that it is very difficult to craft legislation to curb harassment without becoming overbroad. A critical and double-edged controversy concerns anonymity, or, on the other hand, Facebook's policy requiring real names. EFF also mentioned a proposal in the UK to require websites to log all visitors (the Guardian reference did not work), but web hosting services normally provide user access logs identifying IP addresses, files visited, and search arguments used.  This was particularly useful to me in 2005 when I had an "incident" while substitute teaching. 

In 2000, a particular person got upset over a review I had written of the film version of Sebastian Junger’s “A Perfect Storm” on (now defunct) Hometown AOL’s old “Movie Grille” board.  I had commented on how the fisherman characters in the film felt compelled to risk taking their ship through the storm because they would not get paid.  The person thought I was arrogant in interpreting the author’s and director’s intentions, and seemed to confuse a comment with what happens in a movie with endorsement of the political condition that allowed it to happen.  He sent some nasty emails (in the days before spam) before stopping.  A few times in movie and book reviews, people have confused an author’s or film’s position about an issue with the idea that I must be supporting it because I even mentioned it.  

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