After seeing Amanda Hess talk about cyber-harassment on The Cycle, I posted Twitter is Bad–Yahoo May Be Worse. Today I’d like to continue that discussion.
Based on my experiences with Yahoo, I’m convinced they want to hang onto hateful content as a form of spectacle, like an online version of the Jerry Springer Show (where people throw chairs at each other), but more extreme. We often see this softcore/hardcore dichotomy between TV and the Internet. Cable TV provides softcore pr0n and softcore hate, while the Internet provides hardcore versions of these same commodities. (Again, see Lisa Guernsey, New York Times, Mainstream Sites Serve As Portals To Hate.)
At Jezebel.com, the call for horror stories has led to many being told — stories which resonate with me and corroborate my view that some site owners use the spectacle of people trying to destroy each other’s lives as a circus attraction to draw eyeballs and sell ads.
Flaming, doxxing, creepshots, and all kinds of misogyny and racial or religious hatred are not merely tolerated by some site owners, but welcomed as essential elements of their business plan. These are the “fight promoters” who provide the means and venue for the fight to take place, but are currently shielded from any legal liability for what happens in the ring. Such indemnity flies in the face of common law and common sense, since it fails to examine who profits from the deed and to assign blame proportionally. Internet fights are often many-against-one, with the one ending up psychologically maimed and sometimes even committing suicide.
The next time you see an example of online hatred or harassment, examine the page carefully with ad blocking off. Chances are you’ll see some type of company logo and/or advertising. I always think to myself, “This hate message brought to you by Yahoo…” Until such time as the laws can be changed, organizing economic boycotts of sites and advertisers who sponsor online hatred may be helpful.
The familiar paper-bag-over-head model means that some advertisers may be unaware they’re sponsoring hate speech, misogyny, doxxing, etc. One approach would be to screenshot hateful content that’s ad sponsored, then contact the advertiser and show them what their ad dollars are buying, what type of content their company is being associated with. Also cc the site owner. Changing the law will take time. Educating (or shaming) site owners and advertisers is an important interim startegy. We should ultimately try and remove the economic incentive to treat hate speech as desirable content, and instead create an economic disincentive.
Over at PandoDaily, Carmel DeAmicis implies that we should preserve full immunity for site owners, but merely appeal to their sense of ethics. I take a different view. Since 1996, we’ve experimented with giving site owners bulletproof immunity from lawsuits by victims of online harassment. What did that get us? Revenge pr0n sites where people (mostly men) upload embarrassing photos and videos of exes they now hate! If you’re analyzing the problem, you should draw a big red arrow between the so-called Communications Decency Act of 1996 and revenge pr0n. Read the case law and you’ll find that some judges regret having to let site owners off the hook for unbelievably negligent and hurtful actions (or failures to act), but their hands are tied by the law.
Read feminist law professor Ann Bartow’s scathing analysis of Cecilia Barnes v. Yahoo here. You can’t appeal to Yahoo’s sense of ethics because it’s apparently missing in action. This remains true whether Yahoo’s CEO du jour is male or female. Their current CEO is Marissa Mayer, who came over from Google.
In Part 2 of this series I’ll discuss Mayer’s successes (as a fashion plate) and failures (as an ethical model) in greater detail. The initial takeaway is that under Marissa Mayer, hatred is still “in vogue” at Yahoo. (Yes, ladies and gentlemen, we have title!)