Your feelings don’t matter online.

Last week’s class on bullying gave me a lot to think about.  So far, we’ve hashed out a pretty broad array of possibilities when it comes to regulating content, and more importantly, people’s behavior.  But the pitfalls are many (i.e. 1st Amendment protections) to ensuring a safe, cordial public forum. It seems like there’s just no fix.

twitter-bullies

But what we’ve witnessed – from Joel Stein’s piece in Time and countless other instances – is that it might just be up to the general public to grow a thicker skin, and in some ways, assume the risk of engaging in public, online forums.  The problem of course is that this has a wider effect on how we rate basic human interaction.  And since we live in an age where forums like Twitter and Facebook provide us with a place to discuss politics, religion, and other potentially controversial issues, we must accept that online forums are too a real part of society.

I namely choose Twitter as the primary example because it seems like most of the abuse online originates from tweets – even our presidential candidates mock one another in the twitosphere!  But it leads me to the heart of the matter: do companies, like Twitter, have an obligation to its customers and the public to defend against harassment and bullying?  My simple answer is yes, they do.  And it’s in their best interest.  While Twitter accepts responsibility for some of the online abuse, in a 2015 interview Dick Costolo was quoted as saying, “we suck at dealing with abuse…. We lose core user after core user by not addressing simple trolling issues that they face every day.”

dick-costolo

Short of the government getting involved, passing complicated legislation that would take an entire legislative calendar to agree upon (conference committees and markups for bills take forever, and are more complicated when delving into murky waters such as online policing), there doesn’t seem to be a great fix other than to 1) defend yourself 2) ignore the abuse.  But this could also spark a new chapter for business ethics moving forward.  My argument is basic: it should be a company’s responsibility to institute safeguards which protect their consumers from abuse.   Please don’t misunderstand me either, I am fully aware that businesses act in their financial best interest, but I would be surprised if designing these measures wouldn’t vastly help an operation for a forum like Twitter.

5 comments

  1. francoismba · ·

    I like that you took a side regarding whether companies have a responsibility to protect its users. I wasn’t surprised to read that Twitter loses users due to bullying and trolling. Therefore, I agree that safeguards will ultimately help the company. Yet, these safeguards can also frustrate those you feel that their voice is being silenced. I would have enjoyed hearing more on policies and procedures companies could implent to make social media safer.

  2. alinacasari · ·

    I completely agree with you that companies should try and institute safeguards to help their users be protected from online bullying and harassment. I think a lot of social media sites (Twitter and Facebook especially) could really benefit from this. Waiting for the government will take too long, and I feel like it will be a legal battle between defending 1st amendment rights anyways.

    I feel like it’s easier said than done when talking about ignoring online harassment. In theory, it seems easy to say we should all have thick skins. But when attacks get personal and invade your entire social life it is much harder to sit back and do nothing. I know I would struggle with that as I would feel the need to defend myself. It’s hard though because there is no 100% clear solution for what we should be doing and I don’t think we will ever all agree on one either.

  3. Thanks for sharing! I agree that the responsibility of bullying and harassment very much falls on the company. However, it’s important to remember the risk we take on when we voluntarily chose to engage on platforms like Facebook and Twitter. Although these companies are making an effort to create a more automated system to find trolls and identify bullies, I think there is a shared responsibility for the community to take action (whether that be interjecting rather than being a bystander or simply reporting negative behavior).

  4. I totally agree with your analysis of cyber-bullying! I think it is a very fine line that companies consistently have to walk in order to balance free speech and user-protection. As you said, they also have to keep the company’s best interests in mind and make sure that their users continue to come back and participate on their network. I think a lot of that has to do with whether or not those users feel safe and comfortable sharing without fear of abuse or bullying. It gets into a bit of what I’ll present about in class tonight- which is also user discretion of how much of their lives they share and understanding the risk of publicizing their thoughts for the world to see (and criticize).

  5. Glad last class was influential. Of course, I’ve been spending time on Fox News forums to get all sides of the political issues. The comment threads there are about as disturbing as I’ve ever seen.

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