Online harassment has been on the rise against historically marginalized groups as they engage in online spaces. While the internet was thought to bring an egalitarian space for all people to share their opinions and ideas, we have witnessed an increase of hate speech, threats of violence, targeted hacking and other methods used as a form of censorship to silence underrepresented voices.
The actions of harassers are both a) a reprisal tactic against those who speak out online and b) a means to control online discourse by discouraging others from continuing to participate equally. Of particular interest to OTF are the evolving methods deployed by repressive governments to silence independent voices and marginalize vulnerable populations.
Sockpuppetry, or manipulating online discussions with the intent to distort, has existed in online spaces for years. OTF previously supported efforts to detect these actions in online forums. Now, a variety of advanced techniques regularly employed by repressive governments allow them to manipulate and control online discourse rather than simply block the underlying medium. For instance, in Vietnam unknown actors successfully silenced those expressing dissent against the government by coordinating use of the “flag as inappropriate” function on Facebook, which, with more than 25 million users, is the dominant social platform in the country. This episode highlights how these types of tactics can not only deter freedom of expression but also silence it entirely.
What applications to OTF addressing online harassment should include/omit: