The students are filing a Title IX complaint. I hope that they get support, and I hope that some justice will be done, much as I know that there will never be peace for Grace Rebecca Mann's family. But I wonder what happens in situations where there is no campus authority, no one to appeal to for safety.
The other day Dooce was featured in a New Yorker article on mommyblogging, explaining her decision to stop blogging as partially motivated by the "personal and emotional" toll it was taking. Writes Rebecca Mead: "The phenomenon of Internet misogyny—often anonymous, usually vitriolic, and sometimes scarily violent—has, of necessity, become a pressing preoccupation for contemporary feminists, just as the issue of unpaid labor was for activists of the early seventies. Women are afflicted disproportionately by online abuse, with trolls apparently lying in wait for those whose online speech is perceived as being too outspoken." We've seen this again and again, not just with mommybloggers but during GamerGate, with the Henry Gee/Isis the Scientist doxxing situation. And while the harassment of women online itself is not new, its hyper-locality--and in the case of Yik Yak, real anonymity--makes it even scarier.
What the Grace Rebecca Mann case demonstrates, and what I've seen my own students experience, is that the freedom of expression that anonymity promotes online can lead to a culture that considers personal violence--especially against women, who are (according to the most recent Pew Research data), by a small margin, more likely to be using social media--acceptable. Yik Yak does have standards, and will cooperate with authorities in the face of a specific actionable threat, but otherwise it relies on self-policing. Which, unfortunately, seems not to be enough. Social media seems to offer a proving ground for real-life hate. And if the community happens not to do something about it, then what?
Over the years I've tended more towards Rousseau than towards Hobbes in the "depravity of human nature" debate, but given the evidence, I can't help but rethink my position. Why, when we're given the opportunity to be anonymous, do we choose to do harm?
We will not know for some time, if ever, what happened the night that Grace Rebecca Mann was murdered. But I wonder: will we decide at some point that anonymity and free speech online isn't worth the price we have to pay for it?
What do you think? Is Yik Yak responsible for not doing something about the harassment of the young women at Mary Washington? Is the community responsible? The university?
Do you know people who have been the targets of anonymous abuse online, in social media?
Not sure what #MicroblogMondays is?Read the inaugural post which explains the idea and how you can participate too.