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January 3, 2018

“Hate Crimes in Cyberspace” lecture held at UMass Tuesday evening

(Andy Castillo/ Daily Collegian)

(Andy Castillo/ Daily Collegian)

University of Maryland Professor of Law, Danielle Citron, delivered a lecture titled “Hate Crimes in Cyberspace” as part of the Interdisciplinary Studies Institute (ISI) 2016 Residency in the Campus Center on Tuesday.

In the wake of the recent distribution of anti-Semitic flyers to printers and faxes to campuses across the country, including UMass, Citron discussed the prevalence of cyber harassment in society, current laws regulating it and the steps taken by private companies to combat it.

Today, unlike 2007, when Citron began working in the field, there is a greater responsiveness from law enforcement regarding cyber harassment as well as exciting new developments in the field to discuss, she said.

“It’s definitely an auspicious time to talk about cyber harassment, which is the subject of my book,” Citron said.

Citron wrote “Hate Crimes in Cyberspace,” which was published by Harvard University Press in 2014, according to the ISI website.

Citron identified the difference between hate speech and cyber harassment to distinguish between what is and is not protected by the first amendment. Specifically, cyber harassment falls outside the confines of the first amendment, which makes it unprotected, she said.

“It’s not hate speech. Cyber harassment (is) … a persistent course of conduct that is targeted at a specific person … (and) is designed to cause and that causes substantial emotional distress, and, often, the fear of physical harm,” she said.

Throughout the lecture, Citron discussed the ability of a perpetrator to limit a victim’s ability to speak freely, effectively silencing him or her. As an example, Citron referred to Anita Sarkeesian, a feminist media critic. After numerous instances of cyber harassment by multiple perpetrators, Sarkeesian was forced to cancel a speech at Utah State University in 2014, she said.

“From a study by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, … it is estimated that there are over 850,000 people who experience cyber stalking,” Citron said.

Women in their 20s most commonly experience cyber stalking, Citron said. Thirty- percent will experience cyber harassment sometime in their 20s, she said.

According to Citron, the federal laws on this issue, while comprehensive, are difficult to utilize due to a lack of resources and priority of other issues, such as national security, at the federal level. Approximately half the states have sufficient laws, but lack proper training of law enforcement. The other states have laws desperately in need of overhaul.

“In about half of the states, there are harassment and stalking laws that desperately need to be updated. They don’t cover abuse that is posted on third party sites. They only cover harassment or terroristic threats that are sent directly to the victim,” she said.

Websites, such as Google and Facebook, which are privately owned, are taking steps towards combatting cyber hate crimes by changing their policies, she said.

“Companies began to see themselves as platforms of citizenship. Facebook was the first to say cyber bullying was out … Google deindexed nude photos in searches of people’s names, so long as you so certify that it is nonconsensual pornography, Cintron said.

Twitter, Reddit and Bing followed suit. Within the last six months, these companies have taken steps to clarify policies pertaining to cyber harassment and deindex instances of nonconsensual pornography, so it no longer appears when a person’s name is searched, she said. In a recent report released by Bing, the company stipulates that over 60 percent of the claims of nonconsensual pornography were validated and the nude photos were deindexed.

“If we all engage in a conversation about it, the more we can teach our kids about what it means to be a respectful citizen. It is a long set of conversations we have to have and I’m psyched that we’re doing it,” Citron said.

Elizabeth Wallace can be reached at erwallace@umass.edu.

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