Sunday, June 9, 2013

Lisa Khoury’s ‘Internet drubbing’: comment platform created hostile environment

Mug shot: "The Spectrum" student journalist Lisa Khoury
Lisa Khoury
At PBS: MediaShift, Dan Reimold shares six lessons from the “Internet drubbing” of college journalism student Lisa Khoury. In February 2012, Khoury authored a counterpoint opinion opposing tattoos for The Spectrum student newspaper.

Khoury’s commentary appeared in print adjacent to the companion “pro” piece but was posted by itself online.

A year later, Khoury and Spectrum editor-in-chief Matthew Parrino said they learned six lessons from “the viral hate they faced and the steps they took to cope with and counter it.”

The appearance of Khoury’s piece online on its own is the subject of the first lesson they shared, which is that “Context is key.”
“Parrino realized that while you may not always be able to digitally mimic a print package, it is essential to still provide the bigger picture or missing links to ensure the same context is present. And he also recognized the presence of this context must be prominent and immediate.”
The five remaining lessons are:
  • Don’t drown in the hate
  • Respond — don’t retaliate
  • Chart a positive course
  • Don’t fully retreat and
  • Keep the billions at the back of your mind
These are valid suggestions for the individual who is targeted by harassment and cyber-bullying, but I hope The Spectrum examines the role of its comment platform in creating a hostile environment.

I examined both the initial piece and Khoury’s follow-up commentary, “The day I met the Internet.” While people who chose to comment through Facebook had their comments tied to a known account, those who left comments directly through the site were able to do so anonymously.

Bill Keller wrote recently in “The Bullying Pulpit,” his piece for the New York Times, that anonymity is license to be vicious.

Speaking from first-hand observation of the “Topix” comment platform, which also permits anonymity, a determined user can rapidly inflict as much damage as possible. As rapidly as viewers flag an abusive post for removal by a moderator, the user can reinsert the allegations across multiple threads of dialogue.

Since the user doesn’t have to leave a name, not even a pseudonym, there is no accountability that might serve as deterrent to issuing personal attacks.

Comment platform hosts can send a powerful message that cyber-abuse will not be tolerated by insisting that all comments must be tied to an identified account. The host can then actively block abusive users from being able to persist in online bullying.

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