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How can the platforms fight harassment?

One thing that becomes eminently clear in this piece about the online stalking, harassment, and threatening of Zoe Quinn is that the police (and the justice system at large) know absolutely fuck-all about online harassment. Which makes sense. The Internet is the thing they use to send reports. It’s not a place where they live. It’s not a thing they police. (Policing the Internet is for the poor damned souls who work Special Victims. And maybe the Fraud Squad people. It’s not for common-or-garden desk officers who take the terrified testimony of women who are re-considering gun ownership.)

At the same time, asking victims of harassment and stalking to explain the Internet to police is both callous and inefficient. Police forces everywhere need to know how harassment online works, not just local precincts that happen to represent random targets. So, what is to be done?

Well, there is one group that has all the data on harassment, and a compelling interest in improving the optics of the situation. It’s not victims. It’s not harassers. It’s not even the police. It’s the plaforms themselves.

Yes. Facebook, Twitter, YouTube: this is on you. You can implement greater protections for users, and you should. But what you’re in a unique position to do is share data on how harassment happens with the people who know the least about it. You know who does it. You know how they do it. You know how often it happens. You know how open and vulnerable your networks are. And you have more than just anecdata: you have the numbers. You’re the ones who can tell police forces (and schools, and workplaces) how the Internet works. How communities work. How communication online works. After all, isn’t that what you were trying to build? A communications network that would be enticing enough to keep people in place long enough to show them ads? And haven’t you learned a little something about human behaviour, from that whole process?

And really, how different would explaining these phenomena be from, say a TED talk? Or a really depressing PowerPoint presentation? Isn’t knowledge-sharing a core component of Valley life? Don’t people visit you all the time, to talk about their cool projects? You could be the ones doing that — for the Department of Justice. Or Congress. Or associations of police chiefs.

So get on it, social media Powers That Be. Relating key sociological concepts to police officers shouldn’t be the victims’ job. You’re the ones who helped create this problem. It’s your job.

  • Madeline Ashby… a science fiction writer, futurist, speaker, and immigrant living in Toronto. She writes a column for the Ottawa Citizen. She is represented by Anne McDermid & Associates, and Jason Richman at UTA. You can buy her books here.

    She has worked with Intel Labs, the Institute for the Future, SciFutures, Nesta, Data & Society, The Atlantic Council, the ASU Center for Science and the Imagination, and others. Her short fiction has appeared in Nature, FLURB, Tesseracts, Imaginarium, and Escape Pod. Her other essays and criticism have appeared at BoingBoing, io9, WorldChanging, Creators Project, Arcfinity,, MISC Magazine, FutureNow, and elsewhere.

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    Designing for Interaction: Creating Innovative Applications and Devices (2nd Edition)Super Natural Cooking: Five Delicious Ways: To Incorporate Whole & Natural Ingredients into Your CookingGluten-Free Girl and the ChefPeople Crossing Borders: An Analysis of U.S. Border Protection PoliciesHalf the Day Is NightThe Magicians

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