OEP

Waves not Ripples: Reflections on #OER17

Brian Lamb tweet on #oer17

 

I’m starting with Brian Lamb‘s tweet, good grief – I’m even blogging a reply to Brian Lamb’s tweet, because it highlights one of the things that worked best about #OER17. It’s fitting also since Brian was one of the original EdTech edublogging crew (along with Alan Levine, Darcy Norman, Scott Leslie, Scott Wilson, Barbra Ganley, Jim GroomBarbara Dieu and a host of others) who inspired and encouraged me to work openly and blog as part of my edtech practice back in the day (13th March 2004!). It’s always gratifying to give back to the community, and to support the lighting of many fires. I love the conference functioning as a distributed, open platform, rather than a localised, time-limited event.

Catherine Cronin has just noted “many OER17 participants have remarked and/or written about the conference focus on criticality, equality, social justice” – and it was this conscious focus that I believe cleared the decks for the kind of discussion and thinking we’ve seen come out of the conference. The conference clearly signalled not only the legitimacy of experience, but also the essential role that diversity of experience in relation to the practice of open education plays. Being open depends upon it. This idea isn’t anything new, but by making the political so explicit #OER17 was able to benefit from the years of work and thinking that preceded it – from open education practitioners and communities globally in general and from ALT‘s OER conference series in particular.

Two questions

Looking over the conversations from and around OER17, these are two of the questions I’m asking myself:

  • One of our aims – and the title of OER15 – was ‘mainstreaming open education’. Obviously many of us see this recognition and understanding of open education within general society as desirable. Many of us have argued that Wikipedia represents a fundamentally mainstream positioning of OER and open education practice – even if the majority of beneficiaries don’t recognise it as that or have ever heard of an open licence. There was acknowledgement at OER17 that OERs can be created and made use of as much by political extremists than every other group.  There is an understanding that OER doesn’t magically equal social good (and subsequently, a lot of attention given to open practice).  If it is a broad aim of the open education movement to enter into the mainstream, and given that we know the mainstream is a frequently inhospitable place, with arguably large parts of it currently characterisable by widespread backlash to social justice gains – what do we mean when we say we want to mainstream OER? Is it an inherently de-politicising (in the Cixous sense) move?
  • I’m suspicious of the current distinction between open pedagogy and open practice, and in particular, how little explanation is being given to the privileging or even just use of the term pedagogy over the term practice. Is the use of pedegogy being used as shorthand for educational practice? Is it being used to underline the importance of formal education, or the primacy of teaching? Why not open heutagogy? Is it being used as a form of interpellation, a signal to include and exclude specific groups within open education? What is wrong with ‘practice’? How do we benefit from continuing to insist on a break between theory and practice, or theory and politics? Is this distinction as harmful as the disavowal of the relationship between the personal and the political?

I’m excited to see that our opening keynote Maha Bali is running an open hangout on the 24th April asking What is Open Pedagogy?

#OER18

I think one of the reasons #OER17 did so well in terms of attracting papers and discussions that fit the themes was because although our themes were broad, they were very clear. I’m a big fan of this kind of scaffolding. In terms of #OER18, a focus on learners is really welcome and useful for all of us. There was just criticism that learners were missing from #OER17, so I’m really excited to see how the new co-chairs, David Kernohan and Vivien Rolfe build on previous conferences to ensure learners are centre stage. I’m really keen to see some focus on open educational resources and practice in relation to disability – I’ve been to some great sessions at previous conferences, but we didn’t focus on this as strongly as we could have this year.

I’ve updated the title of the blog post to reflect a phrase Teresa MacKinnon used in the our followup webinar, describing #OER17 as “causing waves not ripples”.

Critical open educational practice in a time of walls and borders

As well as having the privilege of co-chairing OER17, I was also fortunate enough to share a panel on day one of the conference with an amazing group of women. Sheila MacNeill, Frances Bell, Vivien Rolfe, and Kate Bowles, are all familiar names within the education technology and open education worlds. As I also mentioned in the introduction, the panel was also supported by Catherine Cronin, who was with us in spirit, and delivering a parallel open praxis workshop with Caroline Kuhn.

Staying open: sustaining critical open educational practice in a time of walls and borders ran under the conference participation & social equality strand.

The session looked at keeping open practice open, in a time of rapid electoral shift away from the ideals of transnational cooperation, and the widespread manipulation of anxiety in relation to migration as well as of austerity budgeting, and the expanding precarity of labour. The panel invited attendees to join us in developing tactics that will sustain ethical open practice, supported and framed by five x five minute provocations.

Between us, we covered a lot of ground, taking a range of approaches. Kate Bowles wasn’t able to be with us physically, but was well represented by Frances Bell who read her provocation on desire lines and path making beautifully.

Vivien Rolfe (who will be co-chairing OER18) looked at how open relates to the focus on excellence, impact, metrics, performance indicators, market development and brand management in institutions, and asked ‘what can the Five Rs learn from the 3Rs?’

Sheila McNeil looked at the comfort and discomfort of open practitioners and practice within open and closed digital spaces, following up her reflections of the session and conference in this powerful post.

Frances Bell used a video story to ask how open are our research and education practices, looking at whether open access journals, blogs and web pages address or dissolve power relations. 

I looked at the issue of structural inequality and violence against women in online environments, delivering a five minute version of the notes I’m sharing here. My aim was to convey how violence against women and girls exists on an ordinary, everyday spectrum, that implicitly curtails engagement and speech in online spaces.

Open Educational Practice: recognising structural violence against women & girls (VAWG) online

Conversation and connections are critical to online communities and engagement in open practice and activities. What can we learn from present-day political attacks online, and new forms of censorship? What is acceptable and non-acceptable, and how might this translate to an effective way forward for the open movement?

Violence against Women and Girls (VAWG) is a form of structural violence which reproduces and perpetuates structural inequality.  It intersects with, and exacerbates, other forms of discrimination, including racism, agism, disabalism, classism, and heteronormativity.

The continuum of VAWG includes includes sexual harassment, sexual violence, coercive control, intimidation, humiliation and threats. It directly and indirectly limits and regulates the lives of women and girls. VAWG is detrimental to feelings of safety, physical and psychological health and well-being, and has negative social and financial impacts.

“Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG) is already a problem of pandemic proportion; research shows that one in three women will experience some form of violence in her lifetime. The new problem of ‘cyber VAWG’ could significantly increase this staggering number .”

UN Broadband Commission (2015)

Violence Against Women and Girls Online

Online violence also reinforces and perpetuates systemic gender inequality, as forms of abuse are enacted and extended into digital spaces, and as new variants of abusive behaviour are developed in relation to the affordances of digital environments, applications, and systems.

The United Nations 2015 “wake up” report estimates that 73% of females worldwide have endured online abuse. Online VAGW limits speech, social participation, and digital inclusion. It “can have adverse impact on the exercise of and advocacy for free speech and other human rights.”

“Failure to address and solve cyber VAWG could significantly impede the digital inclusion of women everywhere, putting women at increasing disadvantage for being excluded from enjoying the benefits of ICTs and the Internet.“

“With the proliferation of the Internet, online violence against women has taken on a global dimension. Online crimes are not a ‘first world’ problem; they seamlessly follow the spread of the Internet.”

UN Broadband Commission (2015)

Violence Against Women and Girls – a normative cultural backdrop?

VAWA takes place within contexts where women and girls are disadvantaged in a host of ways:

  • Global inequality in girls access to education and literacy
  • Global internet user gap – this has increased from 11% in 2013 to 12% in 2016. Highest in Least Developed Countries (31%) and Africa (23%), but rates remain higher for men than women in all regions. (UN, 2017)
  • Rapid adoption of technologies by abusers – the swift and continuing growth of technology-facilitated domestic violence
  • Growth in individual and orchestrated attacks on feminists and women speaking out about issues concerning women
  • Lack of acknowledgement that a lot of what we talk about online positions the subject (‘deafening androcentrism‘)

OER & VAWG – working in the open examples

There are a range of direct examples of the ways in which online violence against women impacts all of us trying to work equitably in the open:

  • Educators, researchers, students and civilians talking about gendered issues in public networks – wether they identify as feminist or not
  • Wikipedia editors & subjects. Given the critical cultural importance of Wikipedia, underrepresentation of women both as editors and women as subjects is a politically urgent issue.
  • The personal and political cost of the tidal wave of false equivalency arguments relating to gender inequality from trolls, misogynists, and the naive.
  • Openly accessible feminist research, or research which focuses on girls and women

VAWG is structural violence

“For it matters to us what is said about us, who says it, and to whom it is said: having the opportunity to talk about one’s life, to give an account of it, to interpret it, is integral to leading that life rather than being led through it…part of human life, human living, is talking about it, and we can be sure that being silenced in one’s own account of one’s life is a kind of amputation that signals oppression.”

Lugones & Spelman (1983)

Taking action – the good news

What works:

Addressing the issue of violence against women challenges, rather than reinforces, established gender roles in most places.

“Countries with the strongest feminist movements tend, other things being equal, to have more comprehensive policies on violence against women than those with weaker or non-existent movements. This plays a more important role than left-wing parties, numbers of women legislators, or even national wealth.”

“International and regional treaties were most influential in countries with strong domestic feminist movements. Feminist activists magnify the effects of treaties in local contexts by drawing attention to any gaps between ratification and compliance with goals for equality…Treaties give normative leverage to national civil society organisations…International treaties alter the expectations of domestic actors and strengthen and even spark domestic mobilisation.”

Weldon & Htun (2013) 

VAWG increasingly recognised as reinforcing and perpetuating systemic discrimination and structural violence (‘a cause and consequence of gender inequality’), and online abuse is increasingly recognised as a part of this continum of violence.

Laws are being introduced to address the specific forms VAWG takes online – for example, ‘revenge porn’ laws, helplines, training

Many kinds of online abuse and discrimination are now illegal, but hard fought for laws and rights will be eroded if abuse is normalised and accepted. Silence on issues relating to discrimination and hate supports the normalisation of abuse, which in turn effects what reasonable behaviour is.

References

Combatting Online Violence Against Women & Girls: A Worldwide Wake-Up Call UN Broadband Commission for Digital Development Working Group on Broadband and Gender 2015

Feminist mobilisation and progressive policy change: why governments take action to combat violence against women S. Laurel Weldon & Mala Htun Gender & Development Volume 21, Issue 2: Feminist solidarity and collective action 2013

Fighting for recognition: Online abuse of women bloggers in Germany, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, and the United States Stine Eckert, New Media & Society 2017

Have We Got a Theory for You! Feminist Theory, Cultural Imperialism and the Demand for “The Woman’s Voice” Maria Lugones & Elizabeth Spelman 1983

Misogyny on Twitter Jamie Bartlett et al, DEMOS 2014

Online Abuse of Feminists as An Emerging form of Violence Against Women and Girls Ruth Lewis, Michael Rowe and Clare Wiper 2016

Technology-facilitated abuse: the new breed of domestic violence The Conversation UK 2017

Working Group on the Digital Gender Divide Recommendations for action: bridging the gender gap in Internet and broadband access and use UN Broadband Working Group on the Digital Gender Divide 2017

Practical information & advice

Crash Override Network

Crisis support and assistance to the targets of online harassment

Heartmob

Real-time support for people being harassed online

Trollbusters

Global, collaborative campaign for journalists, bloggers and publishers that are under attack

 http://wmcspeechproject.com/online-abuse-101/

Information about violence against women online

 

#OER17 Opening comments

OER17 Welcome slide

Notes from my opening comments:

Alek and I are delighted to welcome you all, so hello to everyone who is here with us on site, everyone who is attending the conference at distance, everyone who is experiencing the wonder of #oer17 in real-time, and everyone who is joining us from the future. We’re delighted to be part of a conversation with you all that is going to help shape the direction of the global open education movement.

On the 20th of April 2016, we announced the theme of OER17 would be ‘the Politics of Open’, in all of its aspects. In between then and now, #OER17 has become probably one of the most timely education conferences of the decade. This has quite a lot to do with Brexit (the UK’s referendum vote to leave the European Union) and the election in the US of Trump, but it’s not only because of these events. It’s also got to do with the ambition and the maturity of open education – where we are as a community and a movement. And it’s linked to the ongoing persistence of structural inequality – which isn’t at all new – and the emergence of the web as an everyday space.

I’m sharing a quote from American feminist activist Jo Freeman, who was writing 40 years ago, in the Tyranny of Structurelessness, about the ways in which organisations and movements are always structured by power relations implicitly.

“For everyone to have the opportunity to be involved in a given group and to participate in its activities the structure must be explicit, not implicit.”

If we fail to acknowledge these relations explicitly, we mask power – we fail to acknowledge what is actually going on . And similarly, I’ve included a quote from French philosopher Hélène Cixous

““I’m not political” we all know what that means! It’s just another way of saying: “My politics are someone else’s!”

Typically the politics of organisations and movements that emerge without scrutiny are mimicking and adopting the existing forms of discrimination. So this conference is a really important and timely event for us collectively to explore, reflect on and challenge issues of diversity, equality and inclusion, both within the community, within our community, and in relation to the work of that community.

You can see a round up of the responses to #OER17 over at the conference website.

You can view the ‘bookend’ blogposts to this one from my co-chair Alek Tarkowski: Politics of Open: five ideas for the OER17 conference

And you can join the #OER17 organising committee online at our follow-up webinar on 20th April 2017.

Media Release: #OER17 The Politics of Open

Cross posted from OER17, licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License by the Association for Learning Technology (ALT).

As we celebrate Open Education Week in the Year of Open, the OER17 Conference presents an opportunity for open practitioners, activists, educators and policy makers to come together as a community to reflect on ‘The Politics of Open’. The conference will be chaired by social and educational technologist and Wikimedia UK Trustee Josie Fraser, and Alek Tarkowski, Director of Centrum Cyfrowe, co-founder and coordinator of Creative Commons Poland.

This event will prompt participants from the UK and internationally to ask:

  • What are our current key challenges and strengths – locally, nationally, and  internationally?
  • What are our priorities – in terms of political governance, organisational and personal politics?
  • What are the changes that we want to effect together?

Co-chair Josie Fraser said: ‘This is a timely conference as governments and organisations across the globe look strategically at how open resources and open licensing can support access to education, reduce costs, help build capacity, and increase collaboration. There is still work to do in ensuring education funders, policy makers, leaders and practitioners understand the huge opportunity of open education. Open education advocates and activists have always put accessibility at the heart of their work – looking to support access to knowledge and resources for all, tackling issues of disability, discrimination and poverty head-on. This conference is an important meeting of all those working at the frontline of education, technology, and equality – exploring “the politics of open” at local, national, international level, as well as at the level of the personal.’

Alek Tarkowski, Co-Chair, said: ‘One of our goals is to look together at areas where our work on open education can extend beyond a focus on resources. An alternative focus on practices will surely be one of the main subjects of debate at our event, but we also hope to identify other such areas. One area that is of particular interest to me is copyright reform. Educational exceptions are one of the key issues debated during the ongoing copyright reform process in the European Union. From the perspective of “politics of open” we need to ask how development of Open Education and copyright reform advocacy can compliment each other.’

Over two days this event will bring together 170 participants running 100 sessions on all aspects of Open Education research and practice. Highlights within the programme are three keynote sessions with Maha Bali, American University in Cairo, Egypt, Lucy Crompton-Reid, Wikimedia, UK and Diana Arce, activist, artist and researcher, Germany.

Reflecting on the central importance of openness in education, Dr Maren Deepwell, chief executive of the Association for Learning Technology, said, ‘At a time when openness is being contested in so many contexts, it can feel like the inherently political dimension of Open Education dominates its enormous practical potential to help us meet the challenges we face in education. It is important to remember that taking an open approach through practice, resources, governance and policy is not a luxury. Instead, it is an efficient, effective and often empowering way for organisations to achieve their aims.’

For full details see https://oer17.oerconf.org/.

Press passes

If you would like a press pass to attend the conference, please contact Maren Deepwell, maren.deepwell@alt.ac.uk.

Notes for Editors

  1. ALT (the Association for Learning Technology) is a professional and scholarly association which brings together those with an interest in the use of Learning Technology. As the UK’s leading membership organisation in the Learning Technology field, we work to improve practice, promote research, and influence policy.
  2. OER17 is organised by ALT and volunteer members from across the community.
  3. About 2,300 individuals belong to ALT, as do ~ 200 organisations across education sectors in the UK and internationally.
  4. If you are writing about, blogging or sharing images and videos about the OER17 Conference using tools that support tagging, please use the tag #oer17.
  5. Our Sponsors are listed at https://oer17.oerconf.org/our-sponsors-supporters-and-exhibitors/.
  6. More information about the conference: https://oer17.oerconf.org/.
  7. Association for Learning Technology, Gipsy Lane, Headington, Oxford, OX3 0BP Tel: +44 (0)1865 484 125, URL: http://www.alt.ac.uk/
  8. ALT is a Registered Charity in the UK, number: 1160039

Alt-C 2016 Keynote: In the Valley of the Trolls

 

Meh2

 

In the Valley of the Trolls

Tay, for 16 hours only

Tay, Microsoft’s Artificial Intelligence bot, was launched on Twitter on 23 March 2016. Text on Tay’s official website stated:

Tay“Tay is an artificial intelligent chat bot developed…to experiment with and conduct research on conversational understanding. Tay is designed to engage and entertain people where they connect with each other online through casual and playful conversation. The more you chat with Tay the smarter she gets, so the experience can be more personalized for you”.

Within 16 hours Tay had become known a racist, conspiracy theorist, sex bot, and Microsoft took it offline.

So how did this happen? Firstly, the Microsoft account was targeted by Twitter users who fed Tay with hate speech, discrimination, conspiracy theories, and lewd text, which it then mimicked and reproduced. While Microsoft seemed to have anticipated that some specific topics would be controversial, and programmed Tay with responses to these, they didn’t seem to have considered the possibility of Tay being targeted by a wide range of inappropriate interactions – of being trolled. Microsoft had released a (mostly) filter free curator and amplifier of the language of the users who interacted with the bot, and many users were lightening quick to understand and make use of this to turn Tay into a mouthpiece for hate and obscenity.

The story was quickly picked up by news sites, gleefully reporting on Microsoft’s bot becoming a holocaust denier within hours of going live. While the account was shut down, screenshots of Tay posting grim messages went up all over the internet.

Tay is currently back up, but now the account is private. You need to be approved by Microsoft to follow the account, or access any of the tweets.

I’m telling the story of Tay here because it’s pretty representative of a range trolling motifs – it’s practically a troll morality tale.

For the lulz

It’s not possible to say what the wider range of motivation of the people involved with the Tay trolling were. We can speculate that some of them were interested in attacking Microsoft, or suspicious of the commercial motivation for personalisation. Some may have seen this as an opportunity to get discriminatory messages up and to spread misinformation.

Lulz are what drive trolls. Lulz are the cultural currency of trolls. Screen Shot 2016-09-06 at 15.03.20Whitney Philips, in her excellent book on trolling cultures (This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things, 2015) (2015) defines lulz as LOL transfigured through the “anguish of the laughed at victim”. Lulz are what knit together a disparate and anonymous group of people who may meet only in passing, or not at all.

Using extremism, obscenity and conspiracy theories, a corporate experiment in AI was taken down within hours, and the trolls got their handiwork reproduced and publicised globally.

This ‘gaming’ of reporters and social commentators, the manufacture of news –is a win for media outlets who need quick-to-read outrage to increase their traffic.  Trolls love to troll the media, and trolls love to get their stories and memes reproduced by the media, and the media loves to promote sensationalistic and outrageous stories, even if the numbers of actual people involved are tiny, or in some cases, the story is entirely made up.

Also typical was the lack of interest on all sides of what is going on here – or, ‘because Trolls’. ‘Because trolls’ is always a win for trolls because it means journalists are taking them at face value, are missing the joke, and have become a part of the joke.

Of course not all trolling involves hate speech, discrimination, threats, obscenity or conspiracy theories. The almost universally agreed on aim of trolling is to disrupt, confront, and provoke individuals and communities online, for the purpose of amusement – for the lulz.

Trolling runs from innocuous pranking (for example Rickrolling) to behaviours which challenge the general sentiments or beliefs of a group, to online harassment and bullying.

Some trolls only target other trolls.

In the vast majority of cases, trolls will make use of anonymity. They may pretend to be other actual or invented people – they might act out being sympathetic, or take entirely opposing viewpoints to their own. They might ask naive questions or swear to blatantly untrue facts in order to frustrate or make someone seem like an even bigger idiot for taking them seriously. They might provide misleading or bad advice, or purposely just talk off topic.

But understanding this also isn’t to be naive, to say or to imply that the extremism we see in a lot of  trolling is coincidental or arbitrary.

Trolls are a diverse group, whose interests, ethics and actions are not all alike. This means that while some trolls are genuinely racist, homophobic, sexist, or otherwise discriminatory, equally, there will be trolls who are using hate speech and extremist views because they know that this is what will get them an outraged, offended or upset reaction. In this view, the statements being fed to the bot were inconsequential in themselves – just the weapons closest to hand. Some might even view the use of abusive language is part of the bigger game – that only idiots would agree with the sentiment being expressed. Some will frame it in terms of a characteristically insincere idea of freedom of speech – and it wasn’t surprising that the soon after the takedown, the hashtag #FreeTay was used to protest against the ‘corporate lobotomisation’, and censorship of Tay.

The key problem with this kind of equivalence, which is in essance, ‘one form of insincere attack is as good as another’, or, ‘all groups are treated equally through hate’,  is that there is no room for acknowledgement that specific social groups are already being harmed on a daily basis by discrimination. The reproduction of hate speech – whether sincere or not – adds to what is already there, helping to normalise marginalisation, and cause new harm.

Tay is a safe example. Tay isn’t a person. It doesn’t have feelings, a history, personal doubts and anxieties. It isn’t sometimes tired and short tempered. It doesn’t struggle to interpret subtly codified online behaviour, or take sexist, racist, or faith targeted abuse personally.

 

Open practice – an ethical gesture

Many of us here today appreciate and have benefited from working and learning in open contexts online – whether through blogging, online courses, or through networks on social media sites.  Talks from the conference are being streamed, so that people who aren’t able to be here in person can watch online. People in the room, people viewing at distance, and others not viewing are using the conference hashtag on Twitter to participate. The video and the tweets will provide access to people who aren’t able to join in with us right now. We are wringing as much value as we can from the effort and insight of all of the speakers and participants. We are creating new resources to be shared and developed.

This isn’t to say that there is no place for closed conversations, or that everything we do as educators and learners must be done in the open. It is a recognition of the enormous value that sharing our practice, thoughts and resources accessibly, discussing and developing these collectively, can provide for us as individuals, for our organisations, and for learners and educators online.  A commitment to open education is an ethical gesture. It’s a commitment to the importance of access to education, research, debate and ideas for all, not just those within designated educational communities. It’s a commitment to the value of co-production and the development of work across not already established networks. It’s an understanding that our work may be of benefit to those who we don’t know, in ways we can’t anticipate, and that we ourselves may benefit from the insight and input of strangers.

It’s also a commitment to putting ourselves in to contexts we don’t necessarily control, to having our views challenged and disagreed with, to being interpreted in ways we might not be happy with.

At it’s most basic, open educational practice is about creating, using and sharing work accessibly, which typically means online, across networked publics. It goes beyond just using and producing openly licensed resources, but OER remains essential to it. Open licences give permission, with some requirements, for others to interact with, take on, make use of, and develop your work.

Open educational practice is about making our work accessible to others, not just to people who agree with us. I’d extend the definition to include practice which is concerned with who gets to publicly engage, who gets to speak and be heard.

Anonymity

Trolls are typically anonymous or pseudonymous. This doesn’t mean that anonymity is a bad thing. People who are not trolling use and need anonymity online. They are anonymous so they can talk openly and frankly about issues they otherwise couldn’t. They use anonymity to keep themselves safe. They are anonymous to guard their privacy, to avoid online surveillance and commodification. They use anonymity to play, or to protest against laws or ideas or governments they don’t agree with.  They are anonymous to make comments and join in conversations that they otherwise wouldn’t.

Many of us here today had the luxury of not growing up online. It’s unsurprising that anonymous (for example, 4Chan) and ephemeral (for example, SnapChat) online platforms have grown in popularity at the same time that the importance and increasing insistence of ‘authenticity’ online has flourished. And while there are obvious professional and personal benefits to ‘being yourself’ online, some benefits may depend on whether or not the kind of person you ‘really’ are is ‘the right kind’ of person. Being ‘yourself’ online, linked to a physical identity, may be a risk, or a privilege.

So how do we protect ourselves?

There some simple, practical things we can all do now to mitigate against trolling and the fear of trolling. Keep your accounts secure. Limit the amount of public information available about you – for example, domain name registration information will include the address and phone number you registered with unless you’ve paid to keep this information secure.

Speak Up

 

There are some great resources online to help you – practical, positive advice to help people protect themselves and better respond to attacks are emerging – for example,  Feminist Frequency‘s Speak Up and Stay Safe(r) guide, produced by women who have been targeted by troll mobs.  If you are being attacked, there are some organisations and initiatives that might help you – for example,  TrollBusters, which mobilises peer support and advice for women writers who are being attacked.  The  Crash Override Network is an online abuse crisis helpline, advocacy group and resource centre.

Ignore, block, report.

The best advice in relation to trolling remains to not respond, not to participate – ignore, block, report. Frustratingly, this means that you don’t get to ‘win’ against the trolls. You can lessen your sense of frustration by remembering no one gets to win against trolls. The more you express your disgust, anger or disagreement, the more the troll will win. In the event of you actually getting the better of a troll – through devastating wit for example, the troll remains anonymous. And doesn’t care. And if they do care, will never show it.

The other important advice is to report. Reporting isn’t always easy. But if you can get some hate taken down – why not? Reporting will help make abuse statistics more realistic, and will also help check service provider assumptions of what kinds of abuse their communities are being subjected to.

Not being a silent bystander is also an important way of addressing abuse and showing support to people who may be feeling isolated. Don’t respond to the troll directly – just show your support and appreciation for the person having the hard time. And if you witness someone else being attacked, why wouldn’t you report it?

There are two main reporting routes:

A lot of offensive activity and content won’t be illegal. Mainstream websites will have acceptable use policies, and a range of ways to report incidents. If you can clearly demonstrate that their terms have been broken, some action will be taken. How easy things are to report, how long it takes for it to be reviewed, what the consequences might be vary.

If the activity is illegal, report it to the police. In the UK, hate crimes and illegal content can be reported online or to your local police.

If you are being repeatedly harassed online by someone in relation to your employment, then it’s also worth alerting your employer and your union if you have one. All employers have statutory and common law duties to look after the physical and mental health of their employees.

Digital wellbeing – taking the long view

One of the important ways we can consider navigating these differences is through the idea of digital JISCwellbeing. This image will be familiar to many of you – it’s Helen Beetham’s work on JISC’s digital competencies framework. I’m particularly interested in how Helen positions and prioritises digital identity and wellbeing in relation to the other competencies. I very much like the way she picks out the consideration of wellbeing in lives that are saturated with and lived through digital environments, within and across modes of participation.

The Welsh Government is taking a similar approach to supporting children and young people through it’s new national Digital Competencies Framework – which is made up of four strands, one of which is Digital Citizenship, which includes identity, digital rights, and online behaviours.

Troll culture?

In these post-truth times, it can seem that everyone and everything is trolling. Certainly, a wide range of groups, including political and corporate groups, have adopted the aesthetic and tactics of trolling to infiltrate or directly attack communities in order to disrupt them, to sway public opinion, and to generate attention and discussion. But we need to stop labeling all behaviors we don’t like as trolling. It’s a way of minimising real harm caused and the unacceptability of some activities, without actually addressing them.

The range of troll behaviours and motivations makes pinning down trolling extremely difficult, and at the same time, makes calling all behaviours online we find offensive – bullying, harassment, threats of violence – but also political disagreement, defence of others freedoms, viewpoints that are not our own – easy to dismiss as ‘trolling’.

The ways in which the word troll is currently being used, equating trolling with someone we don’t agree with or take to take offence at, should immediately alert us to some of the dangers here.  Solutions that work by taking away anonymity and erode privacy to ‘stop trolls’ typically boil down to all of us being presented with the blunt threat of “if you’ve done nothing wrong you’ve got nothing to hide.”

When so much trolling exacerbates and adds to existing inequality, how we address that inequality needs to focus on those people who are being silenced, and not just on those people doing the silencing. Closing accounts, using only protected forums, having our identities verified, cannot be the best solutions we have to offer.