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Cyber-Harassment: What the Online Community Can Do to Stop the Trolls

Jade Walker Huffington Post

The Internet is a bountiful source of information, commerce, entertainment and enlightenment. We share stories and pictures online. We cheer up our friends with encouraging messages. We read the news and share our opinions about the issues of the day. We watch funny videos and search for jobs, mates and rare copies of Ramones albums. Cyberspace is no longer a science fiction concept, but an alternate universe that exists in our reality, one that we can tap into at any time, from anywhere.

It is a wondrous place.

However, as in the real world, you'll also find the corrupt and depraved. Thieves will try to steal your identity. Con artists will attempt to rob you of your affection and cash. And trolls will ambush you, intent on harming your sanity, your self-worth and your reputation.......

There have been way too many stories in the news about men using Craigslist to send strangers to rape ex-girlfriends, ex-employees trying get back at their former bosses by publishing defamatory comments and subscribing them to porn sites/magazines, and teens posting vicious rumors and lies about fellow students. The devastation felt by these victims is incalculable, and in some cases even led to suicide.

This type of behavior has to stop.

In recent years, politicians and law enforcement have stepped up efforts to combat the thieves and con artists. They've passed safety measures to battle against fraud, and created avenues for cybercrime victims to file complaints. Yet when it comes to trolls, there is generally little legal recourse. Victims can document the threats and defamatory comments, but that does not stop the abusers nor does it keep them from attacking others. So what else can we, as citizens of the Internet, do to end such atrocious behavior?

* Education is key to changing attitudes and making clear that the denigration of women and violence against them are unacceptable, Vivienne Hayes, chief executive of the Women's Resource Centre, told CNN. "I hope the horrendous level of this kind of trolling is going to push this issue into the forefront" and prompt government action.

* Freedom of speech has its limits, and people need to learn what they are. You can't yell "fire" in a crowded theatre. You can't threaten violence with the intent of putting someone at risk for bodily harm or death. You do not have a constitutional right to tell lies that damage or defame the reputation of a person or organization.

* If you see something, say something. Don't allow trolls to take over your blogs or social media feeds. If you spy terrible comments, delete them. If the abusers continue to spew their hatred at you, ban their IP address. And if you notice that trolls are attacking someone else, don't ignore the problem. Stand up for the victim and make it clear that such cruelty is not acceptable under any circumstances.

* Internet providers and Website administrators must be more proactive against threatening and defamatory speech. Earlier this month, Twitter announced that it would create an "in-tweet" report button and roll it out to all platforms. This is an excellent start. Hiring moderators, banning users who abuse others, blocking anonymous users and sharing threats with authorities would be a great second step.

Train the police. Many departments are becoming savvy social media users, as evidenced by the official usage of Twitter and Facebook and Instagram and Google+ to share Amber Alerts and BOLOs. But officers also need to learn how to deal with cases of cyber-bullying, cyber-stalking and cyber-scams.

* Arrest the perpetrators. Police in England did just that last month, in response to online threats made against Criado-Perez and politician Stella Creasy. Perhaps a bit of jail time will make trolls think twice before typing out another online threat.

* Lastly, the Internet community must discuss this issue, and create clear and helpful guidelines for victims of online abuse.

No one should have to suffer in silence. ...more

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