Ryan Kavanaugh provides financial support to a wide range of organizations that focus on issues as diverse as children in need and rescue animals. Deeply concerned with the issues of equality and prejudice, he also donates to the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), an organization that was initially founded to combat anti-Semitism and has since widened its focus to address all forms of hatred and intolerance. One of the key issues that ADL has tackled in recent years is bullying, an act that stems from fear and hatred. As ADL makes clear in its comprehensive anti-bullying training, the rising popularity of social media has made bullying as prevalent online as in person.
The anonymity of many online forums has led to a sharp increase in instances of hatred, particularly in light of the recent presidential election. The ADL Task Force on Harassment and Journalism previously reported on the sharp increase in harassment, particularly anti-Semitism directed at Jewish news providers, linked directly to the tense political climate leading up to the election. In particular, the task force looked at hatred on Twitter aimed at a defined group of Jewish journalists.
Responding to this apparent increase in online bullying and hatred, the same task force recently issued a report containing several calls to action to combat digital hate. The calls to action are aimed at social media professionals, policymakers, legal professionals, and the public. The ADL believes that it is important to take quick action against online hate before such forms of anti-Semitism and prejudice become routine. As the CEO of the ADL also explained, this type of hatred is capable of fracturing American society in an unsustainable manner. The recommendations strive to respect free speech and open communication while making it easier to censure unacceptable behavior.
The bulk of the recommendations are aimed at industry professionals, and it should be noted that Twitter has announced several changes to its platform in line with ADL points and in response to its role in rising anti-Semitism during the election. Following is a look at some of the key points made in the list of recommendations for ending hatred.
Recommendations to Industry Professionals for Preventing Online Hate
About half of all the recommendations made by the ADL task force focus on actionable steps for industry professionals. The most important point involves improving the mechanisms available for reporting harassment and bullying. These mechanisms should be easy and fast and allow individuals to explain why content is offensive. Importantly, the individuals hired to review these complaints must have thorough training in cultural context with continual updates on this training when new issues arise. The process must also be transparent and invite feedback from users.
Sometimes, the objects of hatred will not want to file a report or will not perceive the hatred. For this reason, ADL has also called upon social media networks to accept harassment reports from third-party users and to encourage such reporting whenever individuals come across hatred.
The ADL also hopes to create a mechanism for cross-platform communication. Companies will need to communicate to end multi-platform harassment campaigns. Also, co-investment in anti-harassment tools will create the most effective means of identifying and reporting content. Moving forward, anti-harassment should be a primary consideration when creating new social media platforms or changing existing ones.
What Policymakers Can Do to Combat Online Hatred
The responsibility of ending online bullying does not fall on the heads of industry alone. The legal system has an important role to play, which starts with modernizing state laws to cover cyberbullying. A number of states have large gaps in their laws that do not protect individuals from online abuse and virtual mobs. Policymakers also need to look at the investigation and prosecution process surrounding cyberharassment. Current systems require a great deal of time and resources to handle these cases, but with a more streamlined system for responding to online harassment, law enforcement could handle these cases faster and more effectively. As it stands, most online harassers know that the prospect of facing legal redress for their actions is very limited.
A great place to start, says the ADL, is with a government-sponsored study to learn the full scope of cyberhate. The National Telecommunications and Information Administration created a report on online abuse in 1993, but the issue has been left unaddressed since then despite the fact that the online landscape has changed remarkably over the last two decades. A new study would better inform training for both state and local law enforcement officials and provide them with better tools for dealing with online harassment. The ADL task force also recommended the creation of a centralized database for reporting online abuse to establish consistency and ensure that the correct authorities are contacted to handle new cases. Since the online landscape changes frequently, lawmakers also need to consider how to criminalize novel forms of abuse as they appear in a timely and effective manner.
Recommendations for Community Advocates
Targets of hate, as well as their advocates, also have a role to play in combatting online hatred. One of the most important aspects of combatting cyberharassment involves learning about online safety and teaching others, including children, how to keep themselves safe online. In addition to focusing on awareness, these individuals can engage in positive counter-speech. This strategy, which was begun by groups such as Trollbusters and HeartMob, uses positive content to eliminate hatred.
Members of the community can also support groups such as Crash Override Network, which provides legal and emotional assistance to the targets of online hatred. Advocates can also call upon platforms to allow certain content, keywords, and users to be blocked so that individuals can better protect themselves. Journalists, who are especially vulnerable, are in need of better tools to control their online space.