I often wonder about the negativity presented about the digital age and social media and question if this stems from a lack of education or pure disregard for human decency. Those that choose to post such malicious attacks on others must know this is wrong and must know that it is in a very public forum that compounds the impact over traditional face to face right? Maybe they do, maybe they do not. I think some do get caught up in this negative hype, not fully understanding the impact of their actions, while others are intentional. But, what can we do to educate ourselves and others about online harassment and trolling so that we may take a more proactive approach?
We have recognized that digital communication, access to information, and online sharing is only going to grow and is quickly becoming a part of our culture, our daily interactions, and learning. So, we cannot stick our heads in the sand, but instead figure out how to maximize positive discussions and online learning. We must educate ourselves and encourage others to do the same.
As I watched this week’s videos and went through the readings, I was saddened by the rampant rates at which women are outwardly attacked and harassed online, simply for being female and expressing their opinion or writing online. Although no one is immune to harassment and online trolling, the rate at which women are attacked is staggering and reveals how far we have yet to go to address things such as sexism and racism. John Oliver’s spoof on an AOL advertisement of the outrageous things individuals do and say on the internet look so ridiculous and unacceptable by larger society as we would never accept the same actions face to face.
It seems so ridiculous that by removing face to face and by creation of anonymity of online profiles, individuals feel they can act in ways that would not be tolerated in other settings. Matt Rozsa points out:
Online anonymity is only an asset when it’s used to comfort and protect individuals who wish to express opinions in a psychologically “safe” environment
Yet, online anonymity has become the refuge for trolls seeking to intimidate and harass among other things. For those finding themselves attached by both individuals that do identify themselves when they make such vicious posts and those that hide behind their sad fake profiles, there are laws to address their inappropriate actions. The Government of Canada’s website outlines the consequences of actions such as cyberbullying, revenge porn, threats, and harassment to name just a few. PREVNet explores the ramifications of criminal law on cyber crimes and what is being done in varying provinces to address this growing problem.
However, there are many criticisms of the current laws claiming that the digital age and the problems associated with it have moved faster than lawmakers and that current laws fall short of actually working. As Jake Kivanc’s article points out, Bill C-13, which addresses revenge porn and other criminal harassment laws are great, but fall short of addressing digital harassment. The courts have found it difficult to determine if cyberbullying is an actual threat, therefore fitting as a criminal offence under the harassment law. Critics argue that new legislation is needed in a timely manner to clearly define cyberbullying and that it can be done without infringing on freedom of speech.
However, Kivanc’s notes that Bill C-13 and public school campaigns against cyberbullying have taken priority over any initiative to draft better laws for digital harassment and cyberbullying. So in the meantime, we should be as proactive in taking advantage of educating ourselves and those around us how to protect against such malicious acts. The RCMP, Government of Canada, PREVNet, and the Canadian Resource Centre for Victims of Crime all provide educational information to understanding our current laws, what the impact of cyberbullying and harassment are, and provide resources to avoid being a victim or how to support working through such challenges. Further, Matt Rozsa says:
we can start by creating a culture that shames individuals who cross the bounds of decency. We can start by stating the obvious: It is never appropriate to use slurs, metaphors, graphic negative imagery, or any other kind of language that plays on someone’s gender, race/ethnicity, sexual orientation, or religion. Not only is such language inappropriate regardless of one’s passion on a given subject, but any valid arguments that existed independently of such rhetoric should have been initially presented without it. Once a poster crosses this line, they should lose all credibility. Similarly, it is never acceptable to dox, harass, post nude pictures, or in any other way violate someone’s privacy due to disagreement with their opinions. While most people would probably agree with this in theory, far too many are willing to access and distribute this humiliating (and often illegal) content. Instead of simply viewing stories of doxing, slut-shaming, and other forms of online intimidation as an unfortunate by-product of the digital age, we should boycott all sites that publish these materials.
While we wait for Canadian laws to catch up to the digital age of online bullying and harassment, we can educate ourselves and those around us, we can learn how to support victims of trolling, and we can minimize such foul work by not giving it any recognition or legitimacy. This perhaps is what rings most true for me as I consider many of the news forums online that I would love to participate in, but most of the discussions I find is derogatory and so off topic that I do not bother. Since when can we not discuss a news story without making it personal and attacking one another with such disregard for one another? Let’s start creating rich, challenging debate versus narrow and derogatory banter about nothing and ignore the trolls at work.