A revolution

Another day on the internet, and a very similar theme. Someone I follow — a transgender artist named Sophie LaBelle creator of Assigned Male comics is talking again about the level of abuse she has to deal with online …

Sophie LaBelle
FYI : The amount of harassment that I get for drawing these comics are well above what I can absorb. Some people stalk me 24/7. They create websites and forums dedicated to hate and dox me. Anti-Semitic, islamophobic, racist and transphobic parodies are being made minutes after I publish new strips.
The good thing is that all this energy put to silence me demonstrates how important this kind of work is, even with the limited reach I can have by myself. I get so many wonderful messages everyday from people sharing their stories with me, telling me how much it means to them to see a positive and empowering webcomic out there (sorry if I can’t reply to all of them!). That’s why I’m continuing despite all the hardships.

This all harks back to my original post on the “Lord Of The Flies” interactive online experience we can “enjoy” on social media at the moment.

We all seem to hang off Mark Zuckerberg’s every word about all the advancements they’re making in Facebook. They’ve added more subtle advertising. There’s facial recognition of friends. There’s going to be more artificial intelligence elements. It can host chatbots to handle and recognise requests.

And it’s not just Facebook pioneering next level tech out there. There are some amazing things being worked on.

So where is the abuse filter? If we can have chatbots to handle requests. If we’ve got bots scanning images in case we post a female breast. If we have algorithms checking every uploaded video in case it contains music which is copyrighted. Then where is the feature which automatically blocks the message that goes, “I fucking hate you. You disgust me. I’d like to see you raped!” in all it’s variants?

Sure, there’s a mechanism for blocking and reporting such posts. But as mentioned in that previous article, you only can block and report after you’ve read the hurtful article. Many people now use disposable accounts to get around this, and frankly social media do very little to stop abusive accounts. I’ve checked on a couple of Tweeters who I’ve recently reported — these are not people who occasionally post something abusive, their whole feed is non-stop abuse. But their accounts are still there.

I guess Twitter and Facebook just consider that if you’ve blocked them, then “the problem has gone away”.

If we can build a system which converts requests to a chatbot to several lines of sales enquiry — what is stopping us from building an abuse filter? Certainly not the technology! Indeed a recent article seems to suggest abuse is so formulaic as to be easily predictable.

The only reason I can think is because we lack the willpower. Certainly the recent posts about the toxic culture at Uber seems to indicate that many start up tech organisations (which would include most social media groups) feel more affinity for the abuser than the abused. Which is just disturbing.

You might just want to chalk me down as a nasty Brit trying to stomp on the world’s right to free speech. But as I’ve argued before hate speech is not free speech. If you’re saying you want to see someone murdered or raped because you disagree with them or their lifestyle, that’s not free speech, that very sort of speech is a crime in itself.

Maslow’s heirarchy of needs is a grouping of things people require, essentially from society. One of those most fundamental needs is one of safety. Social media fails time and again on this fundamental need for users. The use of death/rape threats against either those who are transgender or women who “dare” to challenge some inherent misogyny is unacceptable.

Here you go internet, here’s my agile story — can someone please build it? What is really stopping us from building a safer internet?

As an internet user

I want to have any form of threat automatically blocked and reported *

So that I can use the internet without being threatened

* Oh yes, and if you’d actually block abusive users once in a while, that’d be great.

A comic from Assigned Male — if you enjoy, like and support her work on Facebook