Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Ongoing Problems of Addressing Online Bullying and Hate Speech: Kelsey McKinney and the Case of Twitter

At Vox today, Kelsey McKinney takes a look at a new Twitter "upgrade" that will apparently permit Twitter users to message anyone with a Twitter account. In the past, you could only direct-message someone with whom you were a mutual follower. McKinney notes that Twitter users have begged Twitter's managers for years to address the harrassment that is such a routine feature of the Twitter experience for many folks, but have gotten no significant response from those running twitter.

She quotes Choire Sicha in New York Times recently, who states,

The actual problem [with the internet] is that none of the men running those bazillion-dollar internet companies can think of one single thing to do about all the men who send women death threats.

McKinney notes,

Despite repeated calls from people who have been harassed on the platform, the company has taken few, if any, significant steps to make the community a safe one. And while this development is opt in, this latest step – making contact easier, and more private – is a glaring reminder of Twitter's priorities. 

Readers who have followed Bilgrimage for some time now may remember that in April 2013, I found myself subject to online harassment, to outright bullying, by a group of anti-gay right-wing Catholic activists — though I certainly did not experience what many women experience online, and don't want to compare my experience with that of people receiving death threats for speaking out online. My experience of harassment is documented here, with a footnote here about how the same group of hate-mongering trolls were attacking the Catholic Democrats group at Twitter at the same time they were attacking me.

As my postings above indicate, this group used Twitter to mount its attacks and engage in hate speech. I contacted Twitter about this when it happened.

I got zero help from Twitter. I got a brush-off from Twitter.

One not too different from the brush-off National Catholic Reporter now appears to be giving (and here, here, and here) anyone who has recently complained about the use of the anti-gay slur term "pansy" in its discussion threads . . . . 

I've said before and I will say again: responsible blog sites have an obligation to moderate discussion threads and declare hate speech and slur terms denigrating targeted minority groups off-limits. As what is happening right now at McGuffey High School near Pittsburgh should remind us, hate speech comes with a very high social price tag for all of us. Let any of us be bullied, harassed, and threatened via hate speech (which resorts to "religious" warrants with shocking frequency), and we all suffer, as the body politic and its common good are undermined for everyone.

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