How to prevent abuse and misogyny on the internet

We have all been harassed/abused on online forums. God forbid if you are a woman posting on Stackoverflow/Reddit- be prepared to be trolled, bullied or booed off (severely downvoted).

If you are trying to equate the internet to your interactions with colleagues, classmates or friends, then you are mistaken. Forums like Reddit, vastly comprise of nameless, faceless strangers. Alternatively, you can think of them as anthropomorphized unsolicited opinions. These strangers include people that catcall on the road, that one sexist acquaintance who won’t shut up about how women should stick to doing just domestic things, that annoying male ex-boss who never took you seriously because you were a mere woman, and literally every other person we struggle to protect ourselves from, on a daily basis.

Unfortunately, the laws around online abuse are not robust, and often get foreshadowed by the first amendment (free speech). Add to that the ability to remain anonymous or pseudonymous on the internet, and you have yourself a recipe for disaster. Imagine if all those cat callers, the sexist acquaintance and the annoying ex-boss, could choose to remain anonymous or wear costumes! Welcome to the internet.

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So, what is it that we can do to protect ourselves from the scum of the interwebs?

Proposal A:

Let’s think about the obvious words that are used against women: whore, bitch, slut etc. Every time someone is about to use one of the above words on the internet, a motherly face should appear on a popup that says: “would you say this to your mother or sister?”. The person then has to physically select “yes”/”no”, before proceeding with the comment. The idea is not to suppress “free speech” itself, but to instill some empathy in the person who is making these horrible comments- a way to remind them that the person about to be abused on the other end of the system is a woman, just like their own mother and sister.

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Proposal B:

Of course, abuse is often passive-aggressive and hard to detect using NLP algorithms. A lot of online harassment against women happens in the form of revenge porn. Only 13 out of 50 states in the U.S. have explicit laws against revenge porn. What does one do if their explicit selfies/photoshopped selves are found online?

I agree that image processing is hard to do, but if Facebook’s creepiness is anything to go by, face recognition has come a long way. As soon as somebody tries to post nude pictures on the internet, that person should get notified. Moreover, that person must authorize the upload of these pictures or videos, in order for the server to complete the request.

Proposal C: The Verified Jerk

You know how Twitter has those ‘Verified’ profiles? When someone’s post is flagged as abusive more than a certain number of times, that person should be the proud recipient of the “Verified Jerk” badge, warning the rest of the internet of their unpleasantness and their general tendency to be a jerk.

Any other ideas, folks?

I'm a product manager living in San Francisco with a heart that refuses to leave Chennai! I enjoy writing about product management, technology, and food.

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