Hate Crimes in Cyberspace

Hate Crimes in Cyberspace

Book - 2014
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Most Internet users are familiar with trolling--aggressive, foul-mouthed posts designed to elicit angry responses in a site's comments. Less familiar but far more serious is the way some use networked technologies to target real people, subjecting them, by name and address, to vicious, often terrifying, online abuse. In an in-depth investigation of a problem that is too often trivialized by lawmakers and the media, Danielle Keats Citron exposes the startling extent of personal cyber-attacks and proposes practical, lawful ways to prevent and punish online harassment. A refutation of those who claim that these attacks are legal, or at least impossible to stop, Hate Crimes in Cyberspace reveals the serious emotional, professional, and financial harms incurred by victims.

Persistent online attacks disproportionately target women and frequently include detailed fantasies of rape as well as reputation-ruining lies and sexually explicit photographs. And if dealing with a single attacker's "revenge porn" were not enough, harassing posts that make their way onto social media sites often feed on one another, turning lone instigators into cyber-mobs.

Hate Crimes in Cyberspace rejects the view of the Internet as an anarchic Wild West, where those who venture online must be thick-skinned enough to endure all manner of verbal assault in the name of free speech protection, no matter how distasteful or abusive. Cyber-harassment is a matter of civil rights law, Citron contends, and legal precedents as well as social norms of decency and civility must be leveraged to stop it.

Publisher: Cambridge, Massachusetts :, Harvard University Press,, 2014
ISBN: 9780674368293
Branch Call Number: 364.1502854678 Cit
Characteristics: 343 pages : illustrations


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Apr 08, 2016

The author, a law professor, argues convincingly that laws governing hate speech must and can be extended to the Internet. The wild west frontier nature of the Internet must end. This book will be very influential in the coming years.

The book starts by detailing how a mob which got itself started in 4chan can pick on an innocent person, spread hateful lies about her (the victim is commonly female), and wreck her life and her career. A Google first page can become mostly links to hate, of course with choice snippets of the content.

Yes, we have laws about hate speech, but they are weak when applied to the web. Millions of sites contain anonymous content, and the site owners (if they can be reached) will advocate privacy for the anonymous posters. Large well funded web establishments such as Google, Facebook and Twitter will advocate against censorship and for freedom of speech. And any law enforcement organization will be swamped by the magnitude of the numbers, be it the number of sites publishing hate, or the number of anonymous posters. Not to mention that any country could be hosting the site, could be the home of the site owner, or the anonymous poster.

Let’s change the subject a bit, lighten up, and look at OpenDNS.com. The marvellous service, free for home use (disclaimer: I use the free service), blocks the ‘bad’ sites by intercepting DNS queries. You just point your PC’s DNS at OpenDNS, perhaps select mild or medium, and your family is mostly safe from the seamy side. The OpenDNS company gets its profits from its commercial customers. The service is remarkable, with few mistaken classifications, whether false positives (a good site got blocked) or false negatives (a phishing site not blocked). Sites get categorized into Porn, Phishing, Gambling .. about 50 categories. How can OpenDNS accomplish this? By crowd-sourcing (business speak), or community consensus (PC speak). They have 100,000’s of members talking in forums, flagging and categorizing sites, and voting on decisions.

That was a digression, but perhaps not so much of one. I just want to contrast this effective system with the shambles of the world wide web.

When we look to sort out the shambles, we should pick the low hanging fruit first. If some content on some site somewhere is legally ‘hate speech’ then a search engine which lists it should be liable almost to the extent of the site owner (think Reddit) and the anonymous poster. And do not burden the law enforcement organizations with flagging and categorizing the content. A non-profit similar in governance to Wikipedia, though with some of the structure of the OpenDNS community, could take the lead. Law enforcement officers are vital, however, in tracking an anonymous account back to an ISP, perhaps via proxies, to an individual or office. And enforcing the hate crime laws. Let’s start with the non-international cases first, that might be more than half of them.


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