I’ve been trying to think of my favorite Robin Williams moment since I heard the awful news of his death earlier this week—here’s one of many—but I am also saddened to hear that his daughter, Zelda Williams, has had to drop off social media altogether because of at least two abusive trolls.
Just Jared reported the 25-year-old actress cried out to her 176,000 Twitter followers to report the two users for sending her photoshopped images of her now-deceased father, among other troll-infused sentiments. In a post that she has since deleted, she exclaimed, “Please report @PimpStory @MrGoosebuster. I’m shaking. I can’t. Please. Twitter requires a link, and I won’t open it. Don’t either. Please.”
Plus on her Instagram account, Williams pleaded for people to respect her family’s privacy. “Mining our accounts for photos or data, or judging me on the number of them is cruel and unnecessary,” she wrote. As a result, and wisely, she’s at least temporarily turning away from social media. And who can blame her?
Trolls are like the online version of the Westboro Baptist Church, constantly looking to spread their vitriol while getting a rise out of vulnerable people.
For the women at Jezebel, trolling has reached a boiling point. They’ve even called out their parent company, Gawker, saying “it’s time the company had its feet held to the fire.”
Why? Because of Gawker Media’s publishing platform, Kinja.
According to Jezebel staff, they were informed there were no plans to implement any IP-blocking tools or to record burner accounts. “In refusing to address the problems,” the collective staff wrote, “Gawker’s leadership is prioritizing theoretical anonymous tipsters over a very real and immediate threat …”
In the comment section, Jezebel staffer Madeleine Davies wrote, “I believe that the greatest issue here is not rape gifs but that Gawker Media is prioritizing the safety and privacy of anonymous burner accounts over the safety of our readers, writers and women in general.”
Though Privacy Perspectives has not had to experience such gifs, we’ve also been fortunate to have a publishing platform that allows us to block IP addresses (otherwise, you would get a whole bunch of ads for certain male-enhancement products). Really, the issue speaks to design. We talk a lot about Privacy by Design, but designing architectures to prevent cyber-abuse should be a worthwhile consideration as well. When does it make most sense to design for anonymity, pseudonymity or real identification? These are important considerations that both businesses and consumers need to weigh.
As I’ve written in a previous post, I don’t think a real-name policy is necessarily the best solution as it may stifle honest commentary that could very well move the conversation forward.
Community strategist Annemarie Dooling, in a column for Wired, responded to Jezebel’s call, arguing that “the solution of making every commenter use their real name is not ideal.” Now, in my reading of the Jezebel plea, I don’t see them arguing for a real-name policy, but simply the ability to block IP addresses and prevent burner accounts. However, Dooling goes further by arguing that commenters should have to verify their knowledge instead of their identity.
She continues, “if we could associate an Internet history, even a brief one, to that handle, the human connection becomes instantly apparent.” Dooling cites Disqus, the science subreddit and a climate change thread on Salon.com. In the reddit example, scientists verify with the site via their qualifications; i.e. “a photo of your diploma or course registration, a business card, a verifiable email address,” among others, and all such data is “deleted immediately and never made public.” Comments by verified users are elevated above those from unverified users. (These guys once mused about the sound of science.)
Makes sense and serves as a good example of building privacy protections into social media and publishing platforms. Trust among users will be important here as publishers would potentially acquire more personal information of would-be commenters, but the comingling of more engaged audiences with smarter publishing has some exciting potential.
There’s a lot of talent in the world, and allowing conversations and knowledge to grow can make the world a better place. Just like, in his own small way, Robin Williams did.
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