SXSWorld February 2016


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1 0 S X S W o r l d | F E B R U A R Y 2 0 1 6 | S X S W. C O M epresentative Katherine Clark (D-Massachusetts) has been at the forefront of congressional efforts to combat online harass- ment and will be part of the Online Harassment Summit at SXSW 2016, to be held on Saturday, March 12, at the Hyatt Regency (208 Barton Springs Rd). She recently shared some of her insights on the issue: What first brought your attention to the online harassment issue? Rep. Katherine Clark: If you ask any woman with an online pres- ence, whether professional or personal, she will tell you that online abuse targeting women is far from new. In fact, women face harass- ment and online threats at a rate 27 times greater than men. It's even worse for women of color and LGBT women. What is new is the mainstream attention it's getting thanks to some brave women - people like Jessica Valenti who publicly details the graphic threats of violence she routinely faces as a feminist writer, or Brianna Wu, a video game developer. Briana is a constituent of mine whose family fled their home in the middle of the night after online attackers released her private address and threatened her family with specific acts of sexual violence and murder. In these instances, it's important to recognize what's happening ... these are women, like millions of other women, who are trying to grow their careers online. They cannot do their jobs without the Internet. I learned that Brianna, Jessica and others like them were actually encouraged by authorities to "just stay off the Internet." They were being told was there's nothing that can be done about online abuse, and they should probably find a different way to make a living. As a former prosecutor, I can tell you this logic is backwards, and it's the same type of institutional bias and victim blaming that has plagued our criminal justice system's response to violence against women. It's the idea that if you don't comply with what's expected of you, or you express a strong opinion, then you're "asking for it." I saw it often during domestic violence cases. After hearing about Brianna's case, we reached out to her to make sure that she was getting the help that she needed – and it was clear she was not. I brought Brianna's and others' stories to Congress and persuaded my colleagues to instruct the Department of Justice to prioritize the investigation and prosecution of these cases. What existing laws are applicable to online harassment cases? KC: Well, first, I want to be clear that I'm not interested in policing the Internet. I'm not talking about vulgar language, disagreements or name-calling. Speech is protected by the First Amendment, and I'm interested in ensuring those freedoms for everyone. When women are pushed to the margins of the Internet by severe online threats, their free speech is being chilled. When women, who are dispropor- tionately affected by online abuse, must spend money and alter their lives significantly just to stay safe from harm, their participation in our economy and society is jeopardized. Luckily, most of the laws that we need to combat this are already on the books. In 2006, Congress recognized the dangers of online abuse and amended the Violence Against Women Act to make cyber- stalking illegal. Yet, even though it is a federal crime, prosecutors pursued only 10 of the estimated 2.5 million cases of cyberstalking between 2010 and 2013. In addition, the use of the interstate telecom- munications system to transmit threats of death or serious injury is also already illegal. But it's rarely prosecuted. All we're asking is for our criminal justice system to start investi- gating and prosecuting these crimes, and to provide law enforcement sufficient resources. How much of the problem can be addressed by better enforcement? KC: The bill I introduced (which gives the FBI additional cyber-crime fighting resources) makes sure the DOJ has the resources it needs to enforce laws that already exist. The next thing we need to do is make sure local police are equipped with the training and resources they need to respond effectively. In too many cases, authorities dismiss these incidents as virtual problems, when in fact, victims feel they must take matters into their own hands by leaving their homes or hiring security. Many people have simply gone offline to their per- sonal and professional detriment. How should responsibility fall on website administrators, service providers, etc.? KC: How we respond to victims and how we prevent abuses are shared responsibilities. All of us – online professionals, social media plat- forms, law enforcement, lawmakers – have a responsibility to make sure we're supporting victims with our policies and not enabling the abusers. The industry must address the dearth of women and people of color that work designing online platforms. We won't truly have this issue addressed until there is more diversity of experiences and perspectives in the design and policy process. Are there additional legislative solutions that can be implemented to help protect online users? KC: We have to work to make sure our laws keep up with technology. For example, I introduced the Interstate Swatting Hoax Act to combat dangerous hoaxes known as "swatting," or the intentional misleading of emergency responders in order to provoke a S.W.A.T. team response. Swatting has become a tool for online harassers to attack journalists, academics, domestic violence survivors and celebrities. My bill closes the loophole that allows anonymous perpe- trators to manipulate our emergency response systems. T Fighting Online Harassment from Capitol Hill by Andy Smith R C o n g res s wo m a n Ka t h e rin e Cla rk C O U R T E S Y O F T H E O F F I C E O F C O N G R E S S W O M A N K AT H E R I N E C L A R K

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