Arguing that hate crimes and cyber bullying on the Internet is foremost an issue of gender discrimination, Danielle Keats Citron makes a powerful case for proposing legal changes to help protect both the well-being and the reputation of individuals being harassed and stalked online. Citron states that the effects of cyber stalking, online harassment and cyber mobs go far beyond words written on websites on the Internet. Instead, victims often suffer grave emotional harm, their educational and professional careers are frequently impacted, their online habits often change and cyber harassment and bullying online has contributed to numerous suicides due to information shared and videos uploaded featuring the victim or victims.
Making her case for legal change in the cyber world, Citron features the stories of three women who all suffered at the hands of cyber mobs or individuals. These women are referred to as the revenge porn victim, the tech blogger and the law student. All three of these women’s lives were impacted in various ways, and they found little help when reporting their cases to law enforcement, or when trying to contact websites in which their personal information, pictures, or demeaning and untruthful comments were posted. Instead, the women were often told to lessen their online activity, to simply “deal with” the abuse they suffered online, or to pay certain websites to remove their information. Citron explains how the virtual world is often viewed and described as a “lawless one” in which there are no rules, but individuals simply have to face degrading, demeaning and unjust comments, while often being blamed themselves, such in the case of the revenge porn victim.
Certain online characteristics fuel the spread of negative comments, sexual harassment and bullying. Anonymity is one trait of the Internet that contributes to people making comments and remarks that they otherwise would not. The uninhibited nature of online use and the deindividuation of people is another contributor to people feeling that they can speak whatever is on their minds. Spreading the abuse of a person or group of people online is also made easy through the use of what is called information cascade and Google bombs. One important feature of the online world is also that once information or pictures are added or uploaded, such information can be spread, shared and uploaded even after the original source is deleted. All these characteristics help fuel an environment in which bullying and harassment is made easy and there are few consequences for users. There are laws concerning harmful low-value speech, privacy infringement and defamation to name a few. These laws are however sometimes difficult to enforce, and law enforcement are often not equipped or able to deal with such cases. Finding and identifying online abusers can also be a daunting task, one that may in some cases prove difficult or even impossible.
Hate Crimes in Cyberspace is an interesting read, one that certainly fuels conversation no matter if you believe that legal reform is needed or not. No matter individual standpoint it is difficult to ignore the fact that women and minorities suffer disproportionately at the hand of cyber mobs. The author provides the readers with understandable and concrete ways in which legal reform can help create a safer, more civil environment for those engaged in various online activities. As Citron notes, we are undergoing legal reform already, with numerous states implementing laws concerning Internet conduct and repercussions to stalking, bullying and the spread of defamatory information. At the same time, the author states that this is a slow process, and the legal reform she proposes can help those already suffering the consequences of trolling and cyber mobs.
The book is an easy read, but one that is likely to evoke many feelings, especially when reading about the three women Citron features (the author also includes various other examples) and their struggles to overcome or simply deal with online harassment. The book is an important tool to use in conversations about online use, online conduct and cyber bullying. Since online use has skyrocketed and many young people are on sites such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram (to mention only a few), the book would be a valuable tool to use when educating students about the repercussions of online use. Due to the fact that some of the commentary included when discussing trolling and cyber harassment is rather mature and in many cases very degrading to women, the book would probably serve better in the classroom of college students than high school students. The book is also an important tool to use in studies of law and gender.
© 2014 Hennie Weiss
Hennie Weiss has a Master's degree in Sociology from California State University, Sacramento. Her academic interests include women's studies, gender, sexuality and feminism.