Investigative comedian John Oliver hosts and produces a TV show on HBO called Last Week Tonight. On his show, he uses the attraction of comedy to effectively communicate often serious social and political issues with his audience. In this video regarding “Online Harassment”, John attempts to describe the darker and often overlooked aspects of online culture.
The topic of online harassment is not only amusing for John Oliver to riff on but also central to understanding and interpreting certain facets of this course, which will act as a medium for examining the relationship between computers and society. Starting his video with a “Rick Roll” and following up with a ‘90s AOL advertisement, John cuts to satirizing the internet culture from its origins without hesitation. Moving on to a more serious note, John reads some Twitter insults directed at him as a comic way to start tackling a bigger issue: the malicious nature of some internet users. One female gamer recalled various threats she had received, such as “I’m going to stick an egg in your vaginal canal and punch it.” Other women gave accounts of sexism in the video game industry, citing bomb threats, rape threats, and death threats. Oliver then shows, however, that this is unfortunately not exclusive to video gamers. Female writers also commonly receive vicious online harassment. Writer Amanda Hess explained her negative experiences on NBC and referred to tweets as examples, such as this one displayed by Oliver.
Throughout his segment, Oliver focuses primarily on how women can be harassed online. With stronger and more frequent examples to use as evidence, the malicious internet treatment of women is an effective way to get a viewer angry about online harassment. Unfortunately, this type of behavior does not have exclusively female victims. Regardless of gender, John Oliver makes some amazing arguments for the implementation of legislation which would protect these victims. If someone threatened to murder another person in real life, the authorities would offer protective services and investigate the accused. The same scenario online does not receive this treatment. In this modern era, it is important that we are held accountable for what we do on the internet. As Oliver points out, the internet and reality are one in the same. You can legally buy stocks on the internet, transfer funds, sell a product, hire an employee, advertise a product, and collaborate on projects. All of these online actions are real and affect more than just the digital universe; however, in some areas making a death threat online does not carry the same sense of reality.
So how can we police this? With what system can we prevent this? We do have systems which address non-personal threats, such as the NSA which patrols for national security risks. What we need, however, is a system which can assign real accountability for the harassment delivered on the internet. With online usernames, proxy servers, and a variety of other easily accessible barriers, it is complicated to identify a solution. While we cannot let these issues continue as they are, we also cannot provide the resources necessary to solve them. And even if we could, our government often cannot agree on the legislation necessary to do so. Personally, I’m unsure of what the solution may be. What I am sure of, however, is that this is a serious problem that we, as a society, need to decide how to best resolve. The first step in doing so is to spread awareness as John Oliver does in his video, and hopefully as I do a little more in this post.