By Ray Dixon.
Note: I’ve reproduced this post from my blog Alpine Opinion, as it concerns a subject often discussed here*.
It’s certainly good news that Prime Minister Julia Gillard has struck an agreement with several major websites to help deal with the problem of online bullying, but she’s obviously unaware of one of the worst culprits, being the US-based blog host WordPress (the one I and countless others use), who seem to have a blind-eye policy on people using their services to establish anonymous blogs for defamation, stalking & harassment of real individuals:
The agreement with Facebook, Microsoft, Yahoo! and Google – which owns YouTube – sets out guidelines for what is acceptable online behaviour and introduces protocols for how to deal with problems. Importantly for law enforcement agencies, it also requires a single point of contact for the Government to deal with each company. Ms Gillard says the impacts of online bullying can be significant because of the potentially large size of the audience and the anonymous way in which things can be said.
“It’s true, I think, and part of human nature that people will say things that are sharper and harder under the cover of anonymity than they would say to someone’s face,” she said. “And we see that in the online environment every day.”
In response to the Coalition’s online safety policy released last year, the Government said it had already established “cooperative relationships” with social networking sites, including Facebook, and that Twitter had agreed to work with the Australian Federal Police to identify so-called trolls. But Ms Gillard is pressuring Twitter to sign up to the new agreement announced today.
“We need to see Twitter also agreeing to use these protocols and guidelines, because it is on Twitter that so much of the damage has been done by trolls,” she said. “And I do call on Twitter to replicate what has been done by other major social media companies and embrace these guidelines.”
As part of the new protocols, social media sites will be required to act on complaints promptly and provide users with an indication of how complaints are typically dealt with. Representatives from each company will meet with the Government every six months to talk about emerging issues and trends in social networking sites.
It’s at least a recognition that something needs to be done about the scumbag cowards who anonymously denigrate and harass others online, although I still don’t think it goes far enough. My concerns are:
1. There’s no mention of straight out banning users from establishing a website without giving the provider some identification and, thereby, a much easier means of the offenders actually being found and dealt with. Why not include that in the ‘protocols’? It’s not hard and makes sense – I can’t see why anyone should be allowed to start a blog or Facebook page without first proving who they are and, thereby, being effectively registered. It wouldn’t require them to disclose their identity on the blog itself, but just knowing that the host will have to hand it over to authorities if they offend would be a huge deterrent to those who set out to deliberately do damage to others.
2. Following on from this, without requiring the hosts to properly identify (and register) their Blog/Facebook page owners, the government is still simply leaving it up to the host company’s discretion as to what actions they will take and what constitutes ‘online bullying’ behaviour. But, if the government were to pass legislation that made it compulsory for Blog/Facebook page owners to provide identification then the hosts would definitely comply and hand those details over to authorities – because it’s a law. Eventually, this is what will have to happen, in my opinion.
3. I wouldn’t be so worried about Twitter not signing on yet. I mean, what is said on Twitter is utter gibberish and fleeting – it’s here this moment, gone the next. Twitter is hardly causing online problems to the same magnitude that WordPress, Google & Facebook are.
4. And, as I said above, someone needs to tell Julia Gillard about WordPress. It just shows you how out of touch with reality our politicians are. Facebook may be the hate-medium of choice for Gen Y, but there are plenty of anonymously-authored WordPress blogs out there that are arguably just as bad … or worse … when it comes to serious defamation, stalking & harassment on the Internet.
At least we’re heading in the right direction, albeit at a snail’s pace.
(* I still stand by my contention that if you are opposed to blog or Facebook owners having to provide [in confidence] identification before they start up, then you’re effectively condoning the continuation of online abuse and stalking)