Hate Crimes in Cyberspace

Hate Crimes in Cyberspace

Book - 2014
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The author examines the controversies surrounding cyber-harassment, arguing that it should be considered a matter for civil rights law and that social norms of decency and civility must be leveraged to stop it. --Publisher's description.
Publisher: Cambridge, Mass. : Harvard University Press, 2014
ISBN: 9780674368293
Branch Call Number: 364.15 Ci
Description: 343 pages ; 22 cm


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Apr 08, 2016

The author, a law professor, argues convincingly that laws governing hate speech must and can be extended to the Internet. The wild west frontier nature of the Internet must end. This book will be very influential in the coming years.

The book starts by detailing how a mob which got itself started in 4chan can pick on an innocent person, spread hateful lies about her (the victim is commonly female), and wreck her life and her career. A Google first page can become mostly links to hate, of course with choice snippets of the content.

Yes, we have laws about hate speech, but they are weak when applied to the web. Millions of sites contain anonymous content, and the site owners (if they can be reached) will advocate privacy for the anonymous posters. Large well funded web establishments such as Google, Facebook and Twitter will advocate against censorship and for freedom of speech. And any law enforcement organization will be swamped by the magnitude of the numbers, be it the number of sites publishing hate, or the number of anonymous posters. Not to mention that any country could be hosting the site, could be the home of the site owner, or the anonymous poster.

Let’s change the subject a bit, lighten up, and look at OpenDNS.com. The marvellous service, free for home use (disclaimer: I use the free service), blocks the ‘bad’ sites by intercepting DNS queries. You just point your PC’s DNS at OpenDNS, perhaps select mild or medium, and your family is mostly safe from the seamy side. The OpenDNS company gets its profits from its commercial customers. The service is remarkable, with few mistaken classifications, whether false positives (a good site got blocked) or false negatives (a phishing site not blocked). Sites get categorized into Porn, Phishing, Gambling .. about 50 categories. How can OpenDNS accomplish this? By crowd-sourcing (business speak), or community consensus (PC speak). They have 100,000’s of members talking in forums, flagging and categorizing sites, and voting on decisions.

That was a digression, but perhaps not so much of one. I just want to contrast this effective system with the shambles of the world wide web.

When we look to sort out the shambles, we should pick the low hanging fruit first. If some content on some site somewhere is legally ‘hate speech’ then a search engine which lists it should be liable almost to the extent of the site owner (think Reddit) and the anonymous poster. And do not burden the law enforcement organizations with flagging and categorizing the content. A non-profit similar in governance to Wikipedia, though with some of the structure of the OpenDNS community, could take the lead. Law enforcement officers are vital, however, in tracking an anonymous account back to an ISP, perhaps via proxies, to an individual or office. And enforcing the hate crime laws. Let’s start with the non-international cases first, that might be more than half of them.


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