In my other post, I highlighted the consequences of internet anonymity as it unwittingly permits online harassment and extremism which threatens the rest of the online world. But what is the response to the consequence of this anonymity?
While this kind of action is a relatively new phenomena, the laws that govern it are even younger and face the challenge of balancing protection and free speech. Following the suicide of Rehtaeh Parsons in 2013, the government of Nova Scotia introduced the Cyber-Safey Act, the first of its kind in Canada, to protect people from cyber-bullying. It was ruled unconstitutional because it infringed too far on the right to free speech (Ruskin, 2015). Similar acts from the Canadian government have faced the same scrutiny; Bill C-30 was never passed because of intense opposition and though Bill C-13 was passed (and is still in effect), it too has faced criticism (Dyer, 2014). Bills like C-51, which expanded government capabilities to monitor and deal with online extremist propaganda have also been accused of restricting free speech (Watters, 2015). In addition all these bills may not be effective in preventing any harassment or extremism. Legislating the internet for safety without taking away the freedoms of innocent people is an almost insurmountable task, and should give us pause when we consider it.
Law enforcement action against the harassment or extremism that comes from internet anonymity is almost entirely dependent on people, either witnesses or victims, coming forward to warn them. And for better or worse, there are now methods to completely hide your online activity. With an anonymous culprit, it may be impossible to locate them, let alone punish them (not to mention that they may be beyond the law’s jurisdiction).
Certain websites have taken action themselves. For example, reddit will ban users who harass or dox others, and remove or quarantine hateful content and subreddits. But these decisions are not centralized, and can vary throughout the site, with the administrators only occasionally acting when things get out of hand. News websites like the CBC will do similar things, by heavily moderating or even not allowing comment sections on certain stories. Do these responses go too far, or not far enough?
There is no easy solution, but there never will be. I don’t want to say we need to choose between freedom and safety, so unlike other problems where we need to go to the source, in this case treating the symptoms might be all that is possible. We’ll never have perfect systems to find and punish people who spread hatred online, so instead there needs to be more support for victims of online harassment, better security for our personal information, creation of online environments that promote civil discussion, and the monitoring of hate sites to ensure their views are contained. Is this an ideal situation? No. But internet anonymity is a permanent part of our society now, and despite it’s consequences we must deal with it appropriately.
Dyer, E. (2014, October 20). Cyberbullying bill draws fire from diverse mix of critics. CBCNews. Retrieved from http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/cyberbullying-bill-draws-fire-from-diverse-mix-of-critics-1.2803637
Ruskin, B. (2015, December 11). Court strikes down anti-cyberbullying law created after Rehtaeh Parsons’s death. CBCNews. Retrieved from http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/nova-scotia/cyberbullying-law-struck-down-1.3360612
Watters, H. (2015, June 18). C-51, controversial anti-terrorism bill, is now law. So, what changes? CBCNews. Retrieved from http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/c-51-controversial-anti-terrorism-bill-is-now-law-so-what-changes-1.3108608