Wednesday, November 4, 2009
Efforts to decrease the sexist aspects of online fora have been largely ineffective, and in some instances seemingly counterproductive, in the sense that they have provoked even greater amounts of abuse and harassment with a gendered aspect. And so, in the wake of a series of high profile episodes of cyber sexual harassment, and a grotesque abundance of low profile ones, a new business model was launched. Promising to clean up and monitor online information to defuse the visible impact of coordinated harassment campaigns, a number of entities began to market themselves as knights in cyber shining armor, ready to defend otherwise defenseless people whose reputations have been sullied on the Internet Of course these companies charge a fee and place particular emphasis on women who they recognize as potential clients. This article raises three concerns about these businesses. First, these companies have economic incentives to foster conditions online that perpetuate acts of online harassment, as the more harassment there is online, the greater the number of potential clients. These companies are also incentivized to create fora with hostile climates and to stir up trouble themselves. Second, these companies have economic incentives to oppose legal reforms that might enable online defamation and harassment victims to seek recourse from law enforcement agencies or through the courts. And finally, though they cloak themselves in the mantel of protectors of the innocent, their real agenda is to sell their services to wealthy corporations and individuals for far more nefarious purposes: to help bad actors hide negative information about themselves. This practice creates information asymmetries that can harm anyone who detrimentally relies on what they incorrectly assume to be the best available information and can lead to increases in the sorts of financial losses and personal vulnerability that access to unmanipulated Internet search results might otherwise reduce.
Download the article from SSRN here.