EFF on online harassment

The Electronic Freedom Foundation is taking on online harassment as a serious barrier to freedom of speech:

Just because the law sometimes allows a person to be a jerk (or worse) doesn't mean that others in the community are required to be silent or to just stand by and let people be harassed. We can and should stand up against harassment. Doing so is not censorship—it's being part of the fight for an inclusive and speech-supporting Internet.


Trolls and online mobs, almost by definition, are groups that are skilled in efficiently directing concentrated fire against others. That means that voices that are facing harassment can be the ones ejected from online discussion, as the weight of the mob makes it look like they are the ones who are radical and outside the mainstream. To find examples of this, one need only look to the governments—such as China, Israel and Bahrain—that employ paid commenters to sway online opinion in their favor. And of course, there are plenty of trolls willing to do it for free.

and some concrete recommendations:

  • More powerful, user-controlled filtering of harassing messages. There are plenty of ideas already for how sites could allow more configurable blocking. If platforms aren't willing to provide these solutions, they should open up their platforms so that others can.
  • Better ways for communities to collectively monitor for harassing behavior and respond to it— rather than, as now, placing the burden on individuals policing their own social media streams.
  • Automated tools that let people track and limit the availability of personal information about them online (including public sources of data), to better allow themselves to defend themselves against threats of doxxing.
  • Tools that allow targets of harassment to preserve evidence in a way that law enforcement can understand and use. Abuse reports are currently designed for Internet companies' internal processes, not the legal system.
  • Improved usability for anonymity and pseudonymity-protecting tools. When speakers choose to be anonymous to protect themselves from offline harassment, they should be able to do so easily and without deep technical knowledge.

I'm hopeful that things are starting to shift away from trolls holding all of the power. That's already poisoned online discourse for many, and done far worse for some.

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