The recent spate of media coverage over the online attacks on opinionated Fashionista and social commentator Charlotte Dawson have seen many people speculating on just how far the protection of anonymity should go on-line.
Should people who write death threats to others, under the protection of anonymity on the internet, be allowed to continue on their not so merry way, whilst avoiding any and all consequences for their actions, simply because of the medium through which those threats are made?
In real life, if a person wrote another person a death threat and sent it through the mail to be delivered, regardless of whether or not it was signed, the act of doing so would be considered a crime.
The recipient of the death threat would have the right to call in the police and the police in turn would have the right to try to figure out who the perpetrator of the death threat might be and to treat them accordingly under the law, should they be found.
Yet somehow on the internet, that same act, because it is seen to be carried out anonymously, is not considered a crime. Why?
If an anonymous death threat, sent in hard copy through the mail can be considered actionable, then why aren’t death threats sent anonymously on-line also considered actionable?
Both are anonymous actions yet only one form of action, due specifically to the medium through which it is carried out, is seen to be protected by ‘the right of anonymity’.
Surely if the action itself is wrong, then the ability to identify the perpetrator should make little to no difference as to whether or not the action itself should be pursued as a crime?
After all, we don’t not bother to track down bank robbers simply because they may have been wearing masks while robbing the bank and didn’t conveniently leave their contact details behind for a follow-up Q and A session
Instead we find ways to identify and locate them.
So why can’t we do the same with the internet?
Don’t we all have these little things called internet providers? Don’t we all have to provide them with information? Aren’t cookies and alike attached to users accounts?
How hard can it really be to track and trace anyone on the internet?
Personally I find the distinction that we are being asked to draw between the real world and the virtual world in cases such as these, to be at best little more than smoke and mirrors and at worse an absolutely draconian defense of abusive and bullying behavior.
The simple truth is that whatever happens in the virtual world is first and foremost the consequence of an interaction that is initially being carried out in the real world.
After all, in order to post a death threat on-line, a real person has to first sit at a real computer and type real words with their real fingers and hit send.
Just like writing a letter.
Though the medium may no longer be paper pen, the actions and therefore the consequences, should still be considered the same.
God knows it’s taken long enough for the message that abuse, in any form, is never OK to be acted upon in the real world. So why on earth would we want to foster yet another atmosphere in which the same battle for justice could occur?
Isn’t the idea of wilfully protecting those with bullying or abusive personalities who use their words to harm others something that we are taught to abhor in modern society?
Aren’t such actions now called psychological or emotional abuse?
Why should we now be asked to draw a line in the sand between verbal or written abuse in the real world and verbal or written abuse in the on-line world?
When in essence you can’t access the virtual world unless you first carry out the required actions in the real world to do so.
Therefore wilful intent is clearly involved and the recognition of that wilful intent to cause harm is all that is needed in the real world to persecute an abuser for their actions.
I don’t see why actions of hatred, harm and personal abuse on the internet should be treated any differently.
- Desire for attention and power fuel mob mentality (smh.com.au)
- Diving Into the Abuse Pool (kenanmalik.wordpress.com)
- Star support for Dawson (stuff.co.nz)
- Here be trolls: Hunting down online haters (stuff.co.nz)