#cyberthugs

#cyberthugs

October 09
17:20 2013

The mob mentality, formerly found at stadiums, riots and hate gatherings, has a new home – the Internet. Message boards, comment sections and Twitter are now the home to a particular kind of social menace. Unlike the meeting places of the hateful in former decades, the Internet provides a cloak of anonymity.

Anyone can question the manhood, valor or even the worthwhileness of a writer or celebrity or politician, all without consequence, without providing a name, contact information or a reasonable argument.

Three recent events have particularly illuminated the problem with anonymous comment sections and twitter users. Nina Davuluri, an American-born Hindu, won the Miss American pageant on Sept. 16, causing a massive amount of racist uproar on twitter.

American-born San Antonio native Sebastien de la Cruz, a 10-year-old Mariachi singer, sang the national anthem before Game 2 of the NBA finals June 12 between the San Antonio Spurs and the Miami Heat, and was viciously attacked online.

And in the most egregious and sensitive of situations, racists flooded the Internet after the Boston Marathon bombing, later believed to be carried out by Chechnyan-born muslim brothers Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, who are not Arabs.

These examples represent a tiny portion of the useless hate spewed every day on Twitter, the comment sections of articles and websites like Reddit. The lack of consequences and a disregard or misunderstanding of the First Amendment have allowed commenters to go unchecked.

Last week Popular Science magazine discontinued its comments section, stating it took more time to police hate speech than it takes to vet the articles, according to a New York Times article. Other websites and news organizations have suspended, heavily moderated or required Facebook login to comment on posts, but these measures do little to deter twitter users.

England, which is facing similar problems, but has far more stringent hate speech laws, has begun prosecuting what they deem as “twacists.”

Last year, a pair of college students made racist comments to famous soccer players on twitter, with one suggesting an injured player was dead.

The students were convicted of sending “grossly offensive messages, which included racist taunts” and sentenced to more than 200 hours of unpaid community service and fines. The case was one of more than 2,000 cases prosecuted last year under the philosophy “The fundamental principle for Internet-hosted material is that what is illegal offline is also illegal online.”

Because this is a relatively new problem, and one that can be so easily ignored, it has been allowed to fester unchecked.

However, police in the U.S. are using social media more frequently in investigations and it will not be long before the hate-spewing, racist masses are held accountable for what they write online.

Students are being suspended or expelled for online bullying and users of tumblr have been jailed for making thinly veiled threats.

However, to enact real change, lawmakers must make it illegal to racially, sexually or otherwise abuse individuals on social media, in comment sections or on message boards.

William A. Darnell is a journalism junior. He can be reached at willdarnell@gmail.com.

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