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Malicious Scripts: Investigating Online Harassment and Networked Abuse

Sun, May 28, 15:30 to 16:45, Hilton San Diego Bayfront, Floor: 2, Indigo Ballroom A

Session Submission Type: Panel


Online harassment and networked forms of abuse are significant problems. In the U.S. alone, 40% of adult internet users have personally experienced online harassment, including being called offensive names, being purposefully embarrassed or physically threatened, or being stalked, sexually harassed, or harassed for a sustained period of time (Duggan, 2014). Several high-profile incidents, including the #Gamergate retaliation against feminist examinations of sexism in video games and, more recently, the rise of the “alt-right” and bigoted content on Twitter, have raised questions around the limits of free speech and the prevalence of explicitly sexist, racist, homophobic and anti-Semitic commentary online. Feminist legal scholars have systematically analyzed the content and prevalence of such speech, particularly long-term and individual impacts (for example, Citron 2014). Other work engages with provocative, aggressive internet behavior like cyberbullying and trolling. Such research suggests that those most likely to be the targets of hateful speech online are women, sexual minorities, and people of color—in other words, harassment breaks down along traditional lines of power. Because networked abuse has chilling effects on internet participation, particularly on the voices of marginalized individuals, continued investigation of online harassment is deeply necessary.

This panel examines online harassment and other forms of networked abuse using a variety of perspectives, disciplinary foundations, and methodologies. A large, representative survey of internet users finds that gender is a factor not only in how likely people are to experience harassing behaviors, but how likely they are to frame behaviors as harassment. A discourse analysis of content produced by men’s rights activists analyzes the rhetorical moves community participants make to frame online antagonism using social justice language. One paper investigates the rise of “identity antagonism” during the 2016 US Presidential Election, particularly within the ranks of the so-called alt-right; it argues that the “ironic bigotry” favored by alt-right participants remains indistinguishable from genuine bigotry. Another focuses on online harassment that is perceived as justified, providing valuable insight into the motivations of people engaged in harassing behavior. Finally, we turn to the example of “hateblogs” to investigate behaviors that lie at the margins of online harassment, a case study of the murky borders of such activities.

Such research provides valuable insight into a constellation of activities of great concern to scholars, activists, technologists, and policy-makers.

Citron, D. (2014). Hate Crimes in Cyberspace. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Duggan, M. (2014). Online Harassment. Washington D.C.: Pew Research Center.

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