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How to address internet hate speech

  1. Oct 3, 2016 #1


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    I think most of us are appalled at the level of hate speech that we routinely see on the internet. This has prompted me to wonder if the root cause is not the expectation of anonymity. Why do we expect to be able to post things on the internet anonymously? If we say something in a public form (I mean face-to-face) we are not anonymous. Why should the internet be different? If we have something to say, shouldn't we be willing to back it up with our good name? What if each time we logged on to the internet there was a unique identifier which identified us as a person? I think this would go a long way to making the internet a much more civil place. What would be the downside of doing this?
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  3. Oct 3, 2016 #2


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    I could not agree more, but I can do so because I live in a Western-European democracy.
    In other places it may not be that easy.

    Krylov (S.G. Janssens)
  4. Oct 3, 2016 #3
    Good questions! I think it's a consequence of how the Internet was built and developed over time. We'd need to get the reasons why anonymity was built in from the start. Maybe the inventors were introverts?
  5. Oct 3, 2016 #4


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    First of all, every time we log on, we do leave digital traces of our presence through our IP addresses, and tracking IP addresses does generate enough information to determine the ISP of said individual logging on (to go beyond this and identify the specific individual will typically require a court order, at least in the US -- correct me if I'm mistaken about this).

    At any rate, taking anonymity away on the Internet has the potential to lead to a more civil place. At the same time, what about the potential effects of chilling free speech, especially discussion of controversial areas in politics or political discourse? Let me give you an example.

    Suppose that you volunteer as a political activist calling for the decriminalization of, say, prostitution or marijuana use (these are just examples I'm familiar with) and express such opinions (as well as be involved in communications on organizational work related to such activism online). Now suppose that your manager/supervisor is a social conservative (e.g. a devout Mormon or Baptist) and would strongly disapprove of or are opposed to such activism.

    If your boss somehow searches your activity online and find out (through the unique identifier) about your activities or your opinions expressed on prostitution or marijuana use, there is a potential that your boss may take retaliatory action against you at your workplace (whether through outright firing, or through denial of that promotion, etc.), even though your activities take place outside of work. So in this case, anonymity has the benefit of protecting you and your right to free expression.

    And this is not to mention that in many parts of the world with authoritarian governments censoring speech in more public squares, the Internet is often seen as one of the few safe havens to express alternative speech from the standard government propaganda, and anonymity is one of the reasons why. Do we really want to remove this one bit of protection? Some things to think about.
    Last edited: Oct 3, 2016
  6. Oct 3, 2016 #5
    I never put anything on the internet that I wouldn't say in public. I think we should assume the internet is public since someone can always trace us from the IP. Of course, I suppose one could get an underground phone or use a public computer with lax security..
  7. Oct 3, 2016 #6


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    For private communications (for example, between political activists) there exist numerous encryption tools, such as GnuPG. It has always surprised me that so few people seem to be actually using these.

    However, when publishing something on a public place such as a physical billboard on the corner of the street, an open Internet forum or a freely accessible blog, I find it only decent to be prepared to back up your message using your real name. Moreover, it is in fact a sign of strength that might be more to the benefit of that message than an anonymous signature.

    Agreed, also see the second sentence in post #2.
  8. Oct 3, 2016 #7
    I think the trend of oversharing eg social media causes more drama than anonymity.
  9. Oct 3, 2016 #8


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    I certainly agree with you that for private communications (e.g. by e-mails) that encryption tools are available, and should be used to ensure security in communications. But in my example in post #4 I was referring specifically to advocacy for political positions on Internet forums, and I was specifically addressing phyzguy's suggestion about having a unique ID that can be traced back to a person's name. If someone expresses support for a controversial position (decriminalization of prostitution is certainly controversial, at least in many parts of the US), and the individual is in a position where expressing such a position may have repercussions (e.g. job loss), anonymity is an important form of protection.
  10. Oct 3, 2016 #9


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    In the days before the internet, people had to deal with this issue, since it was much more difficult to express an opinion anonymously. So they either kept quiet, or made their views known in some public forum and accepted the consequences. To me it seems like those days were more civil than what we have today. I wonder if the positive that you're expressing here is worth the negative of the steady stream of ugliness that we are constantly subjected to today.
  11. Oct 3, 2016 #10


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    Something to chew on: Does the fact that the hate speech is mostly anonymous and over the internet instead of face-to-face lessen its impact in some fashion? I honestly don't know. Even if it does, the sheer volume of negativity might still win out.

    It's a possibility. I also find it interesting that the internet has also made it much easier for non-anonymous people to get their hate speech out into the world. Perhaps the root cause is simply the ease at which people can have their opinions seen by others?

    Another thing is the ease in which you can find like-minded people and surround yourself with viewpoints which confirm your own and shut out those which do not.
  12. Oct 4, 2016 #11
    Making the internet a much more civil place?

    I have seen many places on the internet that are way, but way much more civil than real life. Although of course there are other places that are not civil at all. For example, a lot of individuals in this forum are civil on a level that simply does not exist in the society I belong to. Yet individuals in other places, I have found to be arrogant, hateful, and barbaric on levels that also do not exist on the society I belong to.
    I've learnt to ignore it when it is directed at me, although it does make me worry sometimes. I have seen internet angry mobs that doesn't make me feel comfortable at all in the sense that I cannot perceive intelligence in them (at least not to my definitions). Like in the movies where they show civilizations of the past chasing someone with fire and weapons, but this time it is cybernetic with people posting things asking and encouraging to destroy specific individuals (usually criminals, but it also happens with famous people where the bullying of those famous people is encouraged by the angry mobs).
    I know of a possible downside to it. It's be great if you read it all, but since it is a little long and I'm not very good at resuming, I'd understand if you don't read it. Here it goes.

    TL;DR: Imposing beliefs on a population of various countries combined is simply wrong.

    The downside is that doing so is trying to control other people just for the sake of civility. That's what a justice system does, enforce order and control on a society.

    One thing is to ask a person to be civil and taking action when that person is not civil within the space that belonged to a specific person, organization, etc. For example, actions like banning that person, or ignoring that person and let the words dissapear. Another thing is forcing a person to be civil from the ground up and not allowing that person to choose to be whatever it wants to be in a population that equals or exceeds that of a single country. The latter, which is what you mentioned in a "what if" statement of making a unique identifier is usually executed or tried to be executed by justice systems in governments.

    What you ask is forcing people to behave in whatever way someone defines as civil. Even if they do not agree with it. You would be then imposing your beliefs over all individuals of the internet (a population of many countries combined), just for the sake of what you think is right. Like: "I think this is right and therefore I will force everyone to behave this way by implementing this system."

    Many organizations on the world use that concept I enclosed in double quotes to attain control and do what they want. I do not want to get negative with this post so I will not mention names, but very infamous individuals of the past (you can check in history books) that have executed mass homicides of other humans have also used a concept similar to the one enclosed in the double quotes: "I think this is right and therefore I will force everyone to behave this way by implementing this system." or "follow these rules and specific ways."

    All in all, I do not see wrong in if for example I have a forum or internet place, to control the ways of the population in my place. But I do see wrong to try to control a population of various countries combined. That is a humongous population and I cannot possibly force them to think like me just for the sake of my values and beliefs.

    I think the point is made, but just in case I put this final example. What if I were to stand on a podium with a microphone and deliver the following message to the whole world: "Everyone in the world will, from now on, behave in the ways I have written in this paper. Those who do not behave that way, will face the consequences. This is for your own good. This is for the sake of civility."

    What would people think of me? What would they call me? What would you, dear reader (not necessarily OP), call me?
  13. Oct 4, 2016 #12


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    Just to clarify, I was not saying that any arbitrarily defined definition of civility should be enforced. I simply think that people say and do things when they think they are anonymous that they would never do if they knew that people knew who they were. If you think back to simpler times before mass transit and mass communications, you were never anonymous. You lived in a small group and everyone knew who you were.
  14. Oct 4, 2016 #13
    Hitler became famous, the opposite of anonymous, on a public, widely broadcast, platform of hate.
  15. Oct 4, 2016 #14
    Don't worry, I know. Sorry if it looks like I made it look like you said something specifically. That was not the goal :(. I still have to polish my English and the way to write stuff in a way others can understand the essence. My post, when read by others, could be probably perceived as me implying that you said something and me argumenting against it, but that is not the essence of the message I tried to deliver. To whoever reads this, that is not the essence, don't focus on that. What I meant to say was that, whether said or not by you or anyone else (like, it doesn't matter who says it), imposing a system of control and/or beliefs over people in spaces that do not belong to a single individual is wrong. And making such a humongous place, like the internet, become controlled by a specific system implementation for the sake of civility is also wrong. Even if the intentions are good since the underlying principle of it all would be to modify the behavior of individuals in spaces that do not belong to anyone in particular. Not by talking with them and educating them, but by forcing specific conditions on them. The examples were to show a possible downside of something that at first hand can look good, but can have side effects. After all, making some individuals not anonymous was made with the intention of controlling their behavior for the sake of a final goal.

    I personally at least am aware that I am not anonymous. At least not in this forum. But in my opinion, I do not believe that knowing such changes my behavior. I could be wrong though and I could be unconsciously behaving in a specific way because of it. A lot of things I have not said in the forum have not been because I understand I am not anonymous, it has been because after evaluating them I have concluded that they are not appropriate for the place. Instead, they are appropriate for another audience.
    Yes, some do. I understand that many behave the way they behave because of that. Yet such behavior is not universal and I do not think that you... No wait, I will not use the word "you", I will use the word "I" for this example... I don't think that I should try to control them because the words that they speech in spaces that do not belong to me make me feel bad. I think this example is better :smile:.
    What are you doing Zooby?! I didn't want to mention names! I'm just kidding with you.

    Was that platform called "the news" by any chance? This is what I gathered from it: "Even not anonymous people don't care about it and still spread hate speech." Did I get the message right?
  16. Oct 4, 2016 #15
    More or less. The assumption that the less anonymous people are the less hate they are going to spread is flawed.
  17. Oct 4, 2016 #16
    I think so too. More compressed and resumed than all the words I wrote. It resumes pretty much the 100 thousand words I wrote. Next time I should write a shorter text and let the details be found elsewhere with links and stuff. It will look better that way. Less verbose and less clutter on the screen.

    There's always space for improvement :smile:.
  18. Oct 4, 2016 #17


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    but still there's plenty of things I would say in general public that I wouldn't say to my boss, for the reasons statguy2000 commented on in the post before yours

  19. Oct 5, 2016 #18
    :biggrin: Yes, that is also a way way to write reports and favored by people who seem busier with other things. But if people want to be nit-picking about your works, writing whatever way won't be of help for you e.g too short indicates not enough, too long indicates verbal abuse for exaggeration as well as incorrect implications etc, a lot a lot :DD. I tend to write as much as I want about what I did myself, so if anyone happens to overlook or skip anything in it, they have to be willing to reread everything themselves or I won't be happy, so my reply will unlikely make them happy also (depending on my mood at the time I answer their questions :DD haha).
  20. Oct 5, 2016 #19


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    This discussion involves both:
    1) the general state of internet courtesy and
    2) rules that (it sounds like) would be applied at websites (internet nodes).

    These rules would only be working on the websites that wanted them (IDs may be provided but not used, IDs could be faked, etc.). The internet is a complex mix of many different types of websites (with different rules) with many different audiences with different things they are looking for (I need not list them). Going to one bunch of sites does not rule out going to another.
    I don't think this could not be forced on people (who run websites) for many reasons, one of which is the first amendment (US freedom of speech constitutional amendment). Therefore there will also be a diverse internet of websites.
    Websites will arise to satisfy the unfulfilled desires of an under represented group. In my mind it is like an social response to an economic potential.

    I have a few approaches for dealing with different kinds of websites:
    1) Some are well moderated like this one. Nothing to really worry about.
    2) Some are more loose with their demeanor regulation and rely more on interactions among website users to get a not terrible result. In these cases, I would call someone out for what they say. Not in an effort to convince them, but to show the other people on the website that it is not acceptable behavior. This can work and make people aware of a different view point. I am thinking that this would only work on websites serving smaller populations.
    3) If I were to go to some "nasty " website, I would probably not get interactive on it since I would probably not see an upside to it (unless I had some specific business to do).

    Each internet using person, probably makes these decisions differently for different websites. And also chooses where they want to go. (There are too many to go to all of them.)
    An additional complexity is that there is a range people with a ranger of "bad" motives (the cause for wanting IDs).

    "Better" rules for a specific site will make that site a "better", but "better" rules for some sites will not cause a change in all other sites. Some people will cross group borders and cause "problems" with some frequency. Different websites/groups of people will have different thresholds of tolerance for these things and different responses.

    I think this website deals with these things very well for the physics minded community!
    But on the other hand, the issues dealt with are less controversial. The same rules would not necessarily be appropriate for sites with other purposes.
  21. Oct 7, 2016 #20
    To the OP, ignore it. Why let somebody else showing ignorance upset your day? You can't control what happens on the internet (or in life), you can only control how you react to it.
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