How do we fix it? Simple: Hold platforms accountable. Whether it’s a big news publisher or a large social network, if we’re sharing information or ideas on a platform and are immediately overrun by abuse that threatens to silence smart conversation or the potential for meaningful connections to be made, put the burden on the platform. Instead of “Never read the comments”, we can simply say the name of the publisher, owner or CEO of the site in question, and then mention that they don’t want to invest in solving abuse on their site. If we’re being charitable, we can say they simply haven’t invested enough in preventing abuse.
But either way, the solution is about sharing the pain of online harassment with those who have the resources and the power to prevent it before it starts. Right now our tendency is to treat it like a joke, so there’s no wonder why those in charge, who don’t face the abuse dished out from the communities they host, treat online abuse like a joke too.
Well, it may be simple to invent a new slogan, but despite Dash’s false advertising, it’s far from clear what, exactly, tech CEOs are supposed to do to prevent people from behaving badly online. No, wait, let me amend that. The obvious implication is that commenting online should require one to provide all sorts of verifiable real-life information up front, while agreeing that anything you say can and most certainly will be used against you in the kangaroo court of public opinion. The fact that Dash avoids spelling this out explicitly is probably just due to the unpalatable optics of doing so.
I thought it was bizarre last year when Choire Sicha, in a review of Jon Ronson’s book about public shaming, whined that the real problem was that tech companies aren’t doing enough to protect women from being harassed online. Now, I’m seeing this as a symptom of what Jonathan Haidt described as a transition between moral cultures — our default option now is to authorize powerful overseers to protect us from all the bad people. And what will we do about the predictable, inevitable abuses of that system? I’m sure there will be a “simple” fix there as well.