Online Harassment, the Failure of Law Enforcement, and What You Can Do About It

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I don’t always find myself agreeing with The Last Psychiatrist, but my can they turn a phrase:

Smart women write clickable articles about their sexuality for nothing, because what good are you if you can’t make someone else money? Interesting to observe that the article’s single suggested solution to cyberharassment is to reframe a criminal problem into a civil rights issue using a logic so preposterously adolescent that if you laid this on your Dad when you were 16 he’d backhand slap you right out of the glee club. . .

First, you have to understand that The Last Psychiatrist employs this kind of language with tongue-firmly-in-cheek, so do me a favor and don’t get your panties in a twist about the reference to domestic violence. This article is written directly to me; which is not to say The Last Psychiatrist knows me, but rather that I am the target audience for scorn this time: female bloggers who write for nothing and rail against online harassment.

This time, I am in 100% agreement: Cyberbullying and online harassment is a criminal issue, and the people failing us are Law Enforcement and the justice system. This entire problem needs to be laid squarely at their feet and they need to pick it up one steaming pile at a time and start shoving the shit through the system. There’s a lot of shit to shovel, but someone’s gotta start shoveling: Every law enforcement agency from the FBI to local precincts needs to have a department specifically devoted to investigating and prosecuting this specific problem.

I don’t want to talk about online misogyny and abolishing anonymity. God no. I mean, to skilled technophiles anonymity is it’s own kind of joke, but I’m glad it exists to the extent that it does and by the way if you don’t know what a VPN is you should google that right the fuck now because it’s important but beyond the scope of this course. I just told all the trolls how to harass women online without being vulnerable to the stuff I talk about in my next paragraph. Isn’t that nice?

That being said, the anonymity of most online trolls is one subpoena to their ISP* away from irrelevant. Why isn’t law enforcement on this? I’ve tracked down plenty of online trolls that harass women online without even the recourse of a subpoena. Most of them are remarkably stupid and a little google-fu reveals their true identity. Once I out the real person, they inevitably completely flip their shit and act like I’ve done something illegal by being really good at google, at which point I point out that sexual harassment is illegal, and if the woman they were harassing wanted to press a suit, she could now. I’m happy to wear the “creepy online stalker for justice” mantle if I get to scare the shit out of these assholes and turn the sharp pointy vulnerability stick on them for once.¬† If I’ve got a phone number, I’ll call. I’ve gotten more teenagers grounded from the internet than anyone you know. It’s an accomplishment I’m proud of. In a few very threatening circumstances, I have sent emails to the bosses of grown men. If a man is threatening to rape a woman from his office chair, wouldn’t you want to know what that employee is doing on company time? I don’t actually know if I’ve gotten anyone fired or reprimanded because, unlike the mothers of teenage boys, the bosses of grown men are legally forbidden from discussing the outcomes with me. I certainly hope some of them have taken action. I don’t ask. That isn’t the point. The point is that what these [mostly] men do, both online and off, is illegal, and I can’t believe Law Enforcement is so blas√© about it.

Until the people with the power to charge and prosecute start doing their jobs, there’s no point blogging about online misogyny and civil rights. It’s up to us to independently call these tools to task. Make it your newest hobby: Find a troll threatening to rape women online, find out who he is via the power of google, and pick up the phone and make sure the people whose opinions he cares about know what he is saying to women online. Alternatively, if it’s you he is harassing, carefully document your google-fu and press a civil suit. Even if you lose, you’re still forcing a harasser into court, and that’s a victory. (Also, once the matter is in court, you can get that IP subpoena if you need it.) That’s how you can fight online harassment. You won’t be able to get them all because some of the smart ones are using a VPN; It’s okay. For every tech-literate harasser out there there are a dozen teenage boys waiting to be grounded and grown men waiting to be fired or reprimanded. The more of these we, collectively, call to task, the more everyone will have to think carefully about the things they say online. And yes, this is going to make a lot of people mad at you, but there is nothing illegal about calling a publicly listed number and telling someone what someone else is saying on the internet.

Someone is inevitably going to mention slander, but if it’s true it’s not slander, and this kind of thing is ridiculously easy to prove once someone actually bothers to do a legal investigation. So cool. Bring on the slander suits. Thanks for the opportunity to throw around subpoenas! Yes, court is annoying, and in the rare instance some idiot actually does press suit and miraculously wins you end up having to pay the chucklehead. I find the odds of that pretty slim, though, and would rather keep fighting the good fight even being aware of the outside (but possible) risks. YMMV. Always know the risks. I’m not a consequentialist, but some people are, so make your own decisions.

Here’s a supplemental thought: Why can’t I press charges against “IP 213.76.53.223** (Comcast) – April 23rd, 2014, 3:27pm EST?” That should be a thing. It’s not actually my job to track down the human identity of that IP address. It’s the job of law enforcement and the courts to subpoena the ISP for actionable legal identity. Guess what, if your teenage son is threatening to rape women on the internet, I’m still suing you, the account holder.

Shame on you, Law Enforcement. Why do I have to tell people to do your job for you?

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *


* The shortcoming of using an ISP subpoena to get the real identity of a specific person using a specific IP at a specific time is twofold: First, it will only resolve to a residence or place of business, so that information alone is not usually enough to finger a specific person. Second, if the legal process takes too long not all ISPs keep records of their dynamic IP assignments forever, so the actual information may be vapor by the time a civil process gets around to requesting it. This is why I am of the opinion that this information needs to be subpoenaed by Law Enforcement as soon as it is reported. It won’t get you all the way there, but it narrows down the pool of potential suspects considerably, and makes for an easy investigation if the Law Enforcement agency in question gives enough fucks to actually investigate. (Which they don’t.)

**This totally random IP address generated by The IP Address Generator and the date is composed of random numbers. Nobody at this IP has harassed anybody as far as I know.

 

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One Response to “Online Harassment, the Failure of Law Enforcement, and What You Can Do About It”

  1. FeClay

    Recently someone close to me was a victim of major identify theft. We’re talking on the scale of tens of thousands of dollars. They even shut down the phone accounts so they could not call and put freezes on the the accounts.

    The perpetrator was known. And he was caught red handed. (ie: left his driver’s license as he fled the bank in a failed attempt to cash a check). Yet with all this nothing has really been done.

    The truth is I am completely of the opinion that law enforcement is not there to keep us safe, rather they exist solely to maintain order and obedience to the system.

    So while I agree that police should be on the ball with online crimes. We can’t even get them to kick the ball on traditional crimes.

    Reply

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