Does the Internet need Online Policing?

by Matt Klassen on May 14, 2015

If the Internet has taught us anything about communication, it’s that if people have a way to say something, particularly if they can say it anonymously, someone will undoubtedly say something terrible. While traditionally such anger and vitriol were reserved for our most hated of enemies, the Internet has provided a forum for such unobstructed hate to flow towards anything and everything; from people we’ve never met, to issues that don’t involve us, to things we simply don’t like.

“Dangerous people are everywhere, but when they have the power of anonymity behind them and the power of distance, they become more dangerous,” says Karen Riggs, a professor of media arts and studies at Ohio University. “It’s part of human nature: We have people who will be abusive and lurid.” As I said, the Internet simply makes it that much easier.

But now key Internet stakeholders are taking a stand against online harassment, actively attempting to police what has traditionally been the digital Wild West when it comes to lawlessness and anarchy. It’s no easy task, as such efforts are, much like regular police work, largely reactive, but sites like Facebook and Twitter are starting to improve their policing efforts, working hard to stop hate disseminating across their respective networks.

I’ve always said the Internet is a particularly cruel place, one where the unprepared should dare not tread. The problem, as many victims of online harassment have quickly discovered, is that no matter how hard one works to suppress the hate or racism or inappropriate content, it invariably finds a way to stick around.

As CNET’s Ian Sherr explains, there is a growing need for Internet police to hold these offenders accountable, and Internet companies are doing their best to respond.

“Monika Bickert, head of Facebook’s product policy around the world, and Ellen Silver, who runs global operations, help the world’s largest social network fight against a barrage of abusive, pornographic and racist posts. Bickert’s team sets the rules about the types of comments, photos and videos Facebook won’t allow. Silver’s team eliminates the offensive content. All are offered counselling to help them cope with the worst parts of the Internet they face each day,” Sherr writes.

But the problem, as Sherr explains, is that such policing requires significant amounts of human intervention, as it requires users to report the vast majority of offensive content and Facebook employees to sort through it to determine what crosses the line. It’s a monumental task, one unquestionably impossible right from the outset.

Interested social networks are not the only ones attempting online police work though, as specialized firms like DMCA Defender help victims of online harassment–particularly involving victims of the shameful practice of revenge porn, where an ex-lover spams the Internet with compromising photos. For a price such firms will sweep the Internet, attempting to root out the content from all websites. But again, it’s expensive and, sadly, ineffective, as while such efforts reduce the offending content, it is never able to eliminate it completely.

In the end, consider this the beginning of the rise of the Internet police, as such efforts will only increase as our shameful online behaviour only gets worse. Of course such policing raises important questions of censorship, but that’s a topic for another time.

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Written by: Matt Klassen. Follow by: RSS, Twitter, Facebook, or YouTube.

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