In her new blog post for Forbes, Danielle Citron uses the example of Kathy Sierra to give a short recap of the development of gendered, misogynist cyber harassment, its possible consequences, and (the lack of) reactions to it. She puts “revenge porn” in the same category, rightly so. Current actions by a fraction of the Anonymous hacker collective and legislative attempts to regulate against such non-consensual pornography a let her end on a hopeful note:
Hopefully these views augur cultural attitudes to come. Revenge porn and other forms of online harassment can indeed ruin people’s careers, raise their risk of physical attack, and devastate them emotionally. Of course the next question is whether self-help efforts (like that of KY Anonymous) are the answer. Not by my lights: naming and shaming can become a one-way ratchet to degradation. It can spiral out of control with cyber mobs on both sides and no ability to control the damage. The abuse and counterabuse often resembles an arms race. Nonetheless the message that KY Anonymous and others are sending is valuable. Hopefully more and more people are listening.
I agree with her, but most days I’m not as optimistic how fast this shift will be.
I am certain these developments will change the Anonymous narrative. “Anonymous” is often already hailed as a revolutionary group/action/entity. To create this narrative, “Anonymous” is too often incorrectly portrayed as a monolith, technically leaderless but still dominated by the type of reddit/4chan hacker bro who attacks “the powers that be” (governments, corporations) but also consumes pop culture, Internet memes, and (revenge) porn in a way that isn’t revolutionary at all. In addition, this type of guy positions himself as an other to the typical mainstream “alpha” masculinity, while actually is just creating another type of problematic masculinity in terms of aggression and misogyny.
But it’s not all bad. More progressive versions of Anonymous – like the group that gives Citron hope, or the people who uncovered the Steubenville rape case – are changing this definition, narrative, appearance of Anonymous. Since Anonymous is not a monolithic bloc, it can fairly easily change. I hope what comes out of this shift will make the net an even better, even more revolutionary space. For everyone.