Gervacio Essay 1

Aimee Gervacio
Knowledge Management
Essay 1
March 3, 2010

Knowledge Mismanagement: Regulating Online Speech

A woman’s MySpace picture spurs vicious online comments on a gossip website. A college gamer is arrested after his comments about a school shooting provoked another gamer to take legal action. Online anonymity and accountability, it seems, is at the crux of these issues. How accountable should we, as a society and as digital natives, be of our online identities? How are our self-knowledge and our online selves managed by digital society? Should the norms and mores of society apply to the online communities? How much is too much?

“Why Are Nice, Normal Girls Getting Bullied Online?”
In the March 2010 issue of Glamour, a woman discovers not only a picture of herself on a gossip website, but also a slew of cruel and harsh comments made by the readers of the website. She had modeled for a friend’s fashion show and liked the picture so much that she put it on her MySpace page. After seeing that picture on the gossip website and suffering the massive barrage on her self-esteem and self-confidence, she sought legal advice only to find out that she had limited recourse. The gossip website, among others, isn’t required to reveal the identities of the users unless served with a subpoena (Feldman). Also, removing the photo would also be difficult because it would have to done at the discretion of the site’s owner. The woman had to take action of her own, deleting her MySpace page and asking a friend who worked for the gossip website to delete the meaner comments.
Stories like this, unfortunately, are becoming a dime a dozen. According to the article, studies show that female screen names tend to receive more than 25 times spiteful comments than the male counterparts (Feldman). Another study shows that online trash talk has become the one of the only ways for men to anonymously harass women as it is no longer acceptable to physically or verbally harass women in the public arena. But it’s not only men who are behind the sexually-centered and mean-spirited comments on gossip websites; it is also women who are partaking in this phenomenon because they are competing for social status (Feldman).
So is there nothing that can be done to combat the mean girls and guys of the Internet? There has been a slow but growing trend in women fighting back for their reputations. For example, a former Canadian model won a 2009 court order that forced Google to reveal the identity of an anonymous blogger who sought to deface her reputation. The case, which was mentioned in the Glamour article, “should be a wake-up call” to anonymous bloggers and commentators who believe their words won’t come back to haunt them; according to the former model’s lawyer, “defamation in virtual reality is the same as in actual reality” (LaSalle). Another popular case involved two female Yale Law students suing over two dozen people for defaming them on a Web forum for law students and lawyers (Feldman). The comments, which were beyond humiliating and were downright immoral, caused the women to file suit against their online verbal attackers; the comments were so upsetting that one of the women was turned down for 16 jobs (Feldman). In October 2009, they received an undisclosed amount of money out of court.
Other people have been making moves in stopping online trash talk. There is a Princeton student group called Own What You Think that endeavors to “bring personal accountability back into the ways in which we communicate and interact with each other” (Own What You Think). ReputationDefender, a company that seeks to protect the name and reputation of each of their clients, was formed in 2006 to “discuss [the] emerging reality of the Internet…that the line dividing people’s ‘online’ lives from their ‘offline’ personal and professional lives was eroding, and quickly” (ReputationDefender).
While some people can’t and won’t accept accountability for their online identities, grassroots groups and professionals are on the rise to not only make people responsible for their online selves, but to protect the people who are affronted by their actions. It is groups and companies like these, in addition to changing legal statures, that anonymous online trash talk may be regulated to the acceptable social norms of today’s society.

“Law of the Game on Joystiq: No Freedom of Trash Talk”
Law of the Game on Joystiq is an online column that discusses legal issues related to video games. A June 2008 column discusses First Amendment rights and the online gaming world. When a gamer makes a comment that others may find derogatory and offensive, someone else will comment and censor them, and the gamer in questions replies that it is their First Amendment right to the freedom of speech. However, according to Mark Methenitis, an online gamer and licensed attorney, “any claim to freedom of speech being abridged online in the forums we’re discussing isn’t by act of government” (Methenitis). Digital property is akin to private property; since freedom of speech is limited on private property, that right is also limited on online forums. Additionally, online service providers, such as Xbox, are held accountable for their users’ speech. Regulation of their users’ speech is thus within their own rights and supersedes the right of the gamers.
In 2007, a college gamer at Frostburg State University was playing “Call of Duty 4” when he began telling other gamers that he was going to “’shoot up the school’” through his headset, going into great detail about the shooting(Haas). Another gamer, who was in the same match, took the threat seriously and called the police. After an extensive search, the police arrived at his dorm and arrested him. At the time of the article, the gamer was suspended and was charged with two misdemeanor counts (Haas). The student denied that he was going to shoot up a school and there were no weapons found in his room. It seemed like the student was simply caught up in the action of the video game.
This example demonstrates how users themselves regulate the speech and actions of the online identities of others users. It shows that people can take verbal threats seriously and pursue legal action against the person responsible. Their actions force others to become accountable for what they say online. In this instance, online accountability is enforced by other users.

Regulating online speech has grown to become a big issue in society today. This has become especially big since the digital generation is not only growing up, but growing big. Online anonymity and accountability is no longer the problem of college students and young professionals, but of teenagers and pre-pubescent children. More and more people are becoming digital natives; the bigger the group, the bigger the capacity for issues, such as speech regulation and online anonymity, arise. Regulating online speech, thus online identities, is managed by a variety of factors. The norms and mores concerning online speech and identities are becoming more managed due to personal accountability, whether it is forced by outside organizations, legal actions, or other users in the community.

Works Cited

Feldman, Megan. “Why Are Nice, Normal Girls Getting Bullied Online?”Glamour. March

Haas, Peter. “Online Trash-talking Leads to Arrest.” Blend Games. Web. 15 December 2007.

LaSalle, LuAnn. “Court Case Should Chill Anonymous Bloggers.” Telegraph-Journal.
Web. 26 August 2009.

Methenitis, Mark. “Law of the Game on Joystiq: No Freedom of Trash Talk.” Joystiq.
Web. 25 June 2008.

Own What You Think. Web.

ReputationDefender. Web.

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