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Social media sites still don't do enough to combat abuse

Matt Kapko | July 2, 2015
Every day, countless individuals and groups are victimized on social networks. The abusers, detached and cloaked in anonymity, often take on different personas as they shame, troll, incite and denigrate others with relative impunity. The ramifications can be devastating and, until recently, the majority of social media companies failed to acknowledge -- let alone confront -- the vulgarity and vicious threats that fly so freely on their platforms.

The unfortunate reality is that no one is safe on social sites, and no amount of money, power or influence can change that. When former professional baseball player and current ESPN commentator Curt Schilling recently congratulated his 17-year-old daughter on Twitter for selecting a college and joining the softball team, the duo received threats of sexual violence, less than a month after Costolo promised that things would change. Schilling quickly responded with a bit of "doxing" of his own, by publicly identifying some of the individuals who had abused his daughter.

Whack-a-mole in the Internet's Wild West

If social companies are going to take responsibilities for what happens on their sites they need to offer more meaningful resources and simple solutions to help combat ongoing abuse, according to Ellis.

"It really is like the Wild West frontier because anything can happen," Ellis says. "[Abusers] think that Twitter is not watching, Google isn't watching and Reddit's not watching"

Katie Ray-Jones, CEO of the National Domestic Violence Hotline, says online abuse is particularly widespread among young people. While some social companies do take steps to combat bullying, hate speech and other abuse, it's a constant challenge to stay ahead of the people who want to use their technologies to attack others, she says.

"Until there are clearer definitions and laws around cybercrimes, there will be little recourse for victims," Ray-Jones says. "There is a lot of onus on victims to report and block for each instance of abuse." Social media companies could help victims by making it as simple as possible to report abuse and block violators.

Ray-Jones says social companies could also push to pass laws that support and protect victims. "Working closely with legislators and law enforcement, helping to educate them on this issue, and expressing the seriousness and scope of online harassment and cyberstalking could go a long way toward helping create a more effective response on multiple levels."

Stomp Out Bullying's Ellis says she still hears from children who received no response or appropriate action after reporting incidents of abuse on social networks. "As wonderful as theses sites are they have to protect their audiences."

 

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