Why Do We So Quickly Blame The Internet And Anonymity For Things That Are Not About Anonymous People Online?

from the gotta-point-that-finger dept

The BBC has an admittedly frightening story about a Glasgow MP who had to deal with death threats from what appears to be a seriously disturbed individual. The story is horrific on many levels, and I don't doubt it was terrifying for the MP, Carol Monaghan. But what I'm confused about is why her response is to blame anonymity and social media, when it appears that (1) the individual threatening her is known, and (2) much of the harassment did not occur on social media. But, most of the article still focuses on how she's now demanding social media companies do more to stop anonymous harassment.

Then her constituency office in Partick was targeted, with windows being smashed.

While the MP was in London, the office front was splattered with ketchup.

"When my staff came in it was quite a disturbing thing to see," she told BBC Scotland's The Seven programme.

"It was obviously meant to look like blood across the windows. That was the start of the physical activities."

Things got worse when a death threat was made against her.

"It was phoned in and it contained enough details about my personal life, enough detail to cause the police to take it seriously," she explained.

"I got a call from my office manager. The police had contacted him to say there was what they considered to be a credible threat.

Again, all of that is really awful, and no one should be subjected to such things. But, again, none of the above had anything to do with social media. And the perpetrator is known:

Earlier this month Jonathan Bell, 35, admitted his behaviour caused her "fear or alarm".

[....]

Bell harassed the SNP MP between January and April 2019.

At Glasgow Sheriff Court he pled guilty to causing fear or alarm. He will be sentenced next month.

But, rather than discuss ways to actually deal with this, Monaghan focuses on anonymity and social media as the problem.

"Social media gives people a platform, it gives them a way of directly contacting a person - at any time of the day or night," she said

"It gives them the opportunity to say things anonymously. It gives them a whole lot of protection that the target of their abuse does not have."

Ms Monaghan believes any woman in a public role is party to this abuse, and says she has been told told to "grow a thick skin" and get used to it.

But, she says: "Really, why should we take that level of abuse? We wouldn't accept it in a workplace, but we are just supposed to take it and somehow we are to blame if we don't."

She's absolutely right that she shouldn't have to put up with such abuse. And it's terrible that she had to go through that horrific ordeal. And it's also quite true that social media is a vector of harassment (and also that women face much more, and much more vitriolic, harassment than men). But, the details of this case kind of highlight why it's not just about either social media or anonymity. Much of the harassment did not involve social media, and it's clear that this individual was not anonymous. Police were able to track him down and arrest him (indeed, it wouldn't surprise me to learn that they were aided in that effort by the digital trail Bell left).

Again, this isn't to excuse the harassment that Monaghan received, both on social media and off, but to note that simply pointing fingers at social media seems unlikely to get to the real root of the issue. It's an easy target, but if it's not the actual cause of the problem, then targeting it is unlikely to help -- and could have significant unintended consequences as well.

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Filed Under: anonymity, carol monaghan, harassement, internet, threats


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  1. This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    icon
    Koby (profile), 9 Jul 2021 @ 10:18am

    Viewpoint

    I'm not saying here that I agree that internet anonymity should end, but I can see a few things from her perspective:

    1.) The harassment continued for four months in 2019. I'm guessing that's how long it took to apprehend the perp. Events could have played out differently in the interim.

    2.) A MP no doubt has many more resources at their disposal to investigate this sort of offense. But just because a privileged few can be safeguarded doesn't mean that the problem should be ignored.

    3.) The MP may have learned that the investigation was successful only because the perp was particularly dumb, and the perp might have gotten away with it if he had played his cards a little better.

    4.) The problem is social media only in that it is a near monopoly on internet communication for people who want to be found. It is the new public space.

    5.) We can agree that she shouldn't have put up with the abuse, but the problem is "What do you do about it?" if the other individual is unknown. During this time period, the only options that I can see are to play defense.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. icon
    That One Guy (profile), 9 Jul 2021 @ 10:20am

    'People engage in hit-and-runs, phones are to blame!'

    'Someone smashed up my office, smeared ketchup on the windows in an attempt to make it look like blood, phoned in a death threat... social media and anonymity are terrible things!'

    Gotta love the tech hate that's so popular in politics these days, something goes wrong, blame social media!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. identicon
    Lt. Nitpicker, 9 Jul 2021 @ 10:27am

    While in this case anonymity (and the internet) weren't really relevant, there are sites, like the former CWCki Forums, who's (semi)anonymous users revel in harassing and doxxing people online and offline, the latter often through use of personal information acquired from the internet.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. icon
    ECA (profile), 9 Jul 2021 @ 10:28am

    Strange

    Its amazing that we wish for smart people to be representative us the people, at least be abit smarter then we are.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. icon
    Stephen T. Stone (profile), 9 Jul 2021 @ 10:31am

    I'm not saying here that I agree that internet anonymity should end, but

    “…I’m not disagreeing with the idea.”

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 9 Jul 2021 @ 10:39am

    Re: Viewpoint

    We can agree that she shouldn't have put up with the abuse, but the problem is "What do you do about it?" if the other individual is unknown.

    Well, I'd just say 'fuck off and scroll past it', lest they infringe on the abusers free speech rights through moderation. I'm sure you agree, right?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), 9 Jul 2021 @ 10:40am

    Why is the FBI still stalking Muslims while ignoring the White Supremacists in their own midst?

    The magician is saying look over here at these evil anonymous people online who were causing all of this fear & concern... but pay no attention to the months of planning in the open by those who stormed the Capitol.

    Everyone has run across a troll online, not everyone has had a real world crazy. But much like the 10 trillion child traffickers we keep hearing about in breathless 'true' stories on online, we hear stories about people being harassed online & how no one can stop them.

    Many of these stories share common elements but almost always miss the important things...
    I never blocked them, I thought I could talk sense into them, I got my friends to engage with them to get them to stop... I fed the weirdo & I was shocked just shocked he kept doing things to get attention to feed on. After this went on for 2 years then I demanded the platform do something, but they refused to move fast enough to stop my 2 years of terror to please me.

    Politicians fear anonymous people online, because they can speak truth they wish people wouldn't know. Not all of the nyms in the world are crazies, despite the best attempts to paint them that way. Sometimes people discover that the 'crazy' actually was telling the truth about something important, but until that lightbulb goes off for others its much easier to just believe the claims they are a troll bothering those nice lawyers who never did nothing to anyone... rolls his eyes

    Humans enjoy having labels on things, the problem is they stuff so many things into the labels they become useless. Someone screaming 'I was raped' gets a response because rape is bad... but sometimes you dig in and discover they were the victim of "eye rape". Then the whole thing devolves into people defending the idea rape is bad by protecting the eye rape victim as well, to make sure other people feel empowered to speak about their incident & not worry they will be ignored.

    MP had a crazy.
    No one seems interested in why the crazy disliked the MP.
    MP jumps on the 'internet bad' bandwagon.
    Very few people ask why the hell the MP is saying anything about the internet when the crazy wasn't using the internet to do these horrible things.

    Trolls on the internet are in their own little skinner boxes.
    Say something mean, get a pellet.
    Say something mean, get a pellet.
    Say something more mean, get a bigger pellet.
    Your target involves their social circle, get more pellets from more levers.
    Target tries to rationally talk you out of doing this, such pellet bounty.

    If the troll isn't getting a response because you just said screw them, block/report them, & not give them a pellet they might try to hit the lever a couple more times but they will be looking for a better pellet source elsewhere.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. identicon
    Glenn, 9 Jul 2021 @ 10:51am

    Hate loves company. If you hate A and also B at least as much, then if A causes you pain, blaming B, too, makes you fell twice as good.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 9 Jul 2021 @ 11:02am

    Re: Strange

    Carol Monaghan is an ex science teacher, and should know better than include a non sequitur in logical reasoning.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 9 Jul 2021 @ 11:07am

    Re:

    If the troll isn't getting a response because you just said screw them, block/report them, & not give them a pellet they might try to hit the lever a couple more times but they will be looking for a better pellet source elsewhere.

    Counter example, our own Blue, who will try hundreds of times to get past the spam filter,

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11. icon
    Mike Masnick (profile), 9 Jul 2021 @ 11:32am

    Re: Viewpoint

    Koby, I'm confused. You keep insisting that social media shouldn't be allowed to take down anything every. Yet here you are insisting that they have to act to deal with harassment. You do realize that under your preferred solution that would not be allowed?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12. identicon
    Rocky, 9 Jul 2021 @ 11:39am

    Re: Re:

    Most trolls take their toys and move on when it's not fun anymore, Blue on the other hand isn't a typical troll, he's someone who bears all the hallmarks of someone with mental problems, like an unhealthy fixation on Techdirt and Mike.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13. icon
    K`Tetch (profile), 9 Jul 2021 @ 12:03pm

    Why is obvious

    It's easy to blame social media.

    it's both everywhere and nowhere. It can cover everything while covering nothing. It's the ultimate in easy punches that can't hit back. And it's the tired target of people who blame anything they can't/won't/don't understand.

    It used to be rock+roll, then it was video games, now this.

    They don't like it, they're not 'on top of it', thus it shouldn't be allowed. And how do you stop it being allowed? By blaming it for any ill you can.

    All it does show, is the people casting the stones are lazy, ignorant, and have zero personal accountability in their quest for power and control.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14. icon
    sumgai (profile), 9 Jul 2021 @ 12:53pm

    Re: Viewpoint

    The problem is social media .... is the new public space.

    No, it's not. It's a shared private space, an entirely different thing altogether. If you insist on mixing up those two concepts, then you have only yourself to blame for all the Toll/Spam/Abuse clicks you keep getting.\

    (Actually, social media is made up of many different private spaces, each of which has some degree of sharing. The control of the sharing varies from one private space to the next.)

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15. icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), 9 Jul 2021 @ 12:58pm

    Re: Re:

    But he is getting his pellet, you're talking about him and his crusade.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16. icon
    Stephen T. Stone (profile), 9 Jul 2021 @ 1:04pm

    it's both everywhere and nowhere.

    Ah, so it’s Michael McDoesn’texist.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17. icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), 9 Jul 2021 @ 1:06pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    His crusade isn't the standard trolling most people experience, he has a life mission to expose the horrible things he just KNOWS Mike is up to & using secret messages on the site to infect more people with.
    We all have failed the challenge to just hit the flag & not respond at one time or another... magically thinking this time one of us will drop the logic bomb that will solve him.
    If there was no actual feedback to his posts beyond flag & ignore he MIGHT get bored and move on.
    But even 1 pellet out of 500 attempts seems to be enough to sustain him.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 9 Jul 2021 @ 1:31pm

    Re:

    A "dox" website harms someone the most if it impacts their employment. The way to stop that is when someone links to a dox site, claiming immunity under Section 230, don't sue them for defamation as that is futile, but file harassment charges with the police and hostile-environment complaints against their emplooyer via the EEOC or the state and local equivalent offices.

    Employers who play with federal money (most large employers), or universities or nonprofits, can't let one worker bully an applicant or a co-worker, so they're extremely vulnerable in that regard. Nothing happens to the dox site, just any idiot dumb enough to weaponize it offline. Companies which "cancel" people for online speech are setting a precedent. Also some employers are inconsistent and biased when reviewing online histories.

    To do this achieves the opposite goal for the third party, who wants to join an internet group, and instead winds up like the loser in a game of ring-and-run.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19. icon
    murgatroyd (profile), 9 Jul 2021 @ 1:37pm

    Re:

    I'm trying to remember where I read, years ago, that when you see the word "but" in a sentence, that's your clue that you can completely ignore everything that precedes it in the sentence.

    Here we have the existence proof.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20. icon
    Stephen T. Stone (profile), 9 Jul 2021 @ 2:32pm

    T’was a quote from Game of Thrones, at least as far as I can recall.

    I prefer a different take: Before you open a “but”, make sure doing so won’t expose an asshole.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  21. icon
    AC Unknown (profile), 9 Jul 2021 @ 2:39pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    Or he'll keep spamming thinking that we're "censoring" him.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  22. icon
    Samuel Abram (profile), 9 Jul 2021 @ 3:17pm

    Re:

    Two things

    1. Those sites you mention are not exactly what people think of when you mention "social media", and
    2. anonymity doesn't automatically mean the anonymous person is a monster. Take Techdirt for instance and all the anonymous cowards here.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  23. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 9 Jul 2021 @ 3:37pm

    It does, however, give another voice towards the myriad of voices that want to remove privacy, freedom and the right to freely express themselves over anyone/anything while keeping those same complainants able to do, anonymously and protected, if needs be, the very same thing! Our rights are being completely erroded in favor of returning to the centuries old days of the elite and the peasants, us, and all governments are helping it to happen. So scary and all coming about since the purposefully intended 'financial crisis'!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  24. icon
    ECA (profile), 9 Jul 2021 @ 4:47pm

    Re: Re: Strange

    Ex?
    How do you learn science and not remember it?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  25. identicon
    Rocky, 9 Jul 2021 @ 5:24pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    The only silver lining is that every time he trips the spamfilter he also trains it to recognize his ramblings better. I get a warm and fuzzy feeling from imagining his aggravation that is totally self-inflicted.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  26. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 9 Jul 2021 @ 5:54pm

    Because Internet anonymity makes life less convenient for politicians and copyright enforcers, and they can't have that.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  27. icon
    Eldakka (profile), 9 Jul 2021 @ 10:21pm

    Why Do We So Quickly Blame The Internet And Anonymity For Things

    "because alcohol"
    "because drugs"
    "because blacks"
    "because asians"
    "because latinos"
    "becuase Irish"
    "because democrats"
    "because republicans"
    "because catholics"
    "becuase muslims"
    "because protestants"
    "because communists"
    "because kids these days"
    "because the internet"
    "because anonymous"

    There will always be new moral panics from people who are:

    • afraid of change
    • afraid of different
    • afraid of what they don't understand ("I don't understand young people these days")
    • think they know better than anyone else
    • think that their way is the only way
    • think they (and those who think like them) are the only ones who matter
    • see a way to hold onto or gain power (whether that means wealth or political power) by stoking the moral panic
    • people who enjoy causing trouble for the shits and giggles therefore stoke the moral panic
    • control freaks
    • people who always need to find something else to blame for their own failings ("they're taking our jobs" - if uneducated, shoeless, starving Mexicans are better qualified for their jobs, then, well, just fuck me)
    • people who always need something else to blame for everything (can't accept that "sometimes shit happens")

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  28. identicon
    ryuugami, 10 Jul 2021 @ 1:36am

    Re: Re: Re: Strange

    By becoming a politician.

    Duh.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  29. This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    icon
    Bowen5 (profile), 10 Jul 2021 @ 3:23am

    The worst outcome is that we end up with a kind of Potemkin internet in which everything ... Theme 1: Things will stay bad because to troll is human; anonymity abets ... As a result, there are more people who will complain online in an attempt to get ... And actors would normally be identified, not anonymous.

    https://www.mcdvoice.org/

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  30. icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), 10 Jul 2021 @ 6:32am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    And if he gets no response beyond being flagged his pellet isn't as tasty.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  31. icon
    murgatroyd (profile), 10 Jul 2021 @ 1:13pm

    It's definitely been more common since GoT, but I remember reading it when I was in high school, which was 40+ years ago.

    I guess true wisdom is ageless. :-)

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  32. identicon
    tin-foil-hat, 11 Jul 2021 @ 1:51am

    Lack of Anonymity

    If only the MP could have remained anonymous this never would have happened.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  33. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 11 Jul 2021 @ 3:03pm

    Re: It's a free country, your certainly free to be wrong all day

    "It is the new public space."

    Prove it in court and I'll agree with you. But as I'm still waiting for the links I was promised in the last thread to backup your bullshit. I don't think I'll be holding my breath for you to man up.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  34. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 11 Jul 2021 @ 3:06pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    I would tend think he has a potential to be dangerous but I find it hard to take serious, a person who regularly loses fights with a spam filter.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  35. icon
    Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 12 Jul 2021 @ 1:20am

    Re: Viewpoint

    "I'm not saying here that I agree that internet anonymity should end, but I can see a few things from her perspective..."

    If you can see things from her perspective it simply means you are either insane or claiming the perspective of a lunatic in bad faith.

    Bad people exist. Mean people exist. Bad and mean people alike are, just like good people, able to speak without showing their ID's.
    Online, as offline, that ability is unavoidable if what you want to have and keep is a democracy.

    "4.) The problem is social media only in that it is a near monopoly on internet communication for people who want to be found. It is the new public space."

    And here we see why you do desperately shoehorned yourself into this topic, eh? No, social media isn't the new "public space". Not until government starts owning social media platforms.

    But it take as noted that you here advocate that owners of online platforms need to exercise a lot more stringent moderation and kick people off far more often for being deplorable. Like, among other examples, the sort of person described in the OP.

    I suppose we should be happy that you've just advocated strengthening section 230 to alleviate the "problem" described in the OP. Even if your logic remains ass-backwards.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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