Saturday, August 8, 2015

In Search of Internet Justice

We have become conditioned to crave justice, even to expect it in unreasonable places.   Justice can be hard to achieve in the best of situations, but the justice system is well defined, down to small disputes. The Internet has no such system.

Short of outright criminal activity, there is very little recourse to online hate, abuse, distortion and manipulation of info.  Bad things may be removed, but there is no way to undo the damage, to make us as we were, to provide true justice.

Hate on the Internet is generated in a click or two - faster and louder than spoken words and heard in unending echoes.

It is an easy to create online hate, there is no equivalently easy step to undoing and redressing it. As a society, this bothers us deeply.

What kind of justice can there be on the internet?

There is vigilante justice. We have seen increasing instances of individuals and groups unmasking anonymous trolls, sock puppets or people deemed socially reprehensible. Exposing their real identities and information and, in many cases, ruining their lives.  Not that I have any sympathy for bottom-feeders of the world, but justice means that the punishment fits the crime. It is meant to restore harmony or make the damaged whole.  Vigilante justice has no reason or measure and often goes wrong.

There is self-defense.  Although ideal in principal, the reality often falls short. By some mysterious facet of Internet physics, hate speech propagates through the tubes better counter speech, good speech or truth.  It works, but the effort required to defend and respond is often grossly disproportionate. Self-defense on the Internet is not about response or justice. It is proactive and preemptive. Don’t intentionally become a target, don’t rise to the bait and have a reputation and network that supports you and allows you to laugh-off whatever is thrown at you.

There is Government regulation. Strangely, law has become the worst place to look for justice in online abuse matters. Fraud- yes, conspiracy – yes, terrorism – yes, but hate, defamation, incitement, racism –no. This is mainly because laws start with politicians. Politicians are rarely practicing businessmen, or lawyers, or savvy to real world issues. Mostly politicians see their job as getting reelected, which means going where and doing what the public wants.  The public is often as uninformed as the politicians. The Right to be Forgotten law, now popular in Europe  is a great example of just how wrong this can go.

Industry intervention - The internet industry is not interested with justice. Justice requires a value judgement on what is a crime and the weight or value of that crime.  The industry, rightly, does not want to be cast in that role. Honestly, do we actually want them to be?

The answer is as it has always been – community, a new form of social democracy.  Advances in technology now allow the growing Internet community to decry bias and hate at a new volume. That volume finally begins to challenge the magnitude that hate, bias or injustice achieves so easily.  The catch – participation. At some point we will arrive at the formula for how much outcry counters the wrongs.


Is it justice? No. But just as Internet hate  is something different from real world hate, maybe Internet justice is something new and different as well.

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