Democrat Representative Katherine Clark of Massachusetts’ 5th congressional district wants law enforcement agencies to make investigating instances of Internet-based harassment and threats against women a priority, and she announced this week that the House of Representatives has decided to add language to the appropriations bill for the Department of Justice to that effect. The specific instructions read:
Enforcement of Federal cyber-stalking and threat crimes.—The Committee is aware of concerns regarding increased instances of severe harassment, stalking, and threats transmitted in interstate commerce in violation of Federal law. These targeted attacks against Internet users, particularly women, have resulted in the release of personal information, forced individuals to flee their homes, has had a chilling effect on free expression, and are limiting access to economic opportunity. The Committee strongly urges the Department to intensify its efforts to combat this destructive abuse and expects to see increased investigations and prosecutions of these crimes.
“Strongly urges”, well, that’ll be a real game changer right there. No doubt the DOJ is currently reorganizing every law enforcement agency in the country to combat this threat.
The reason for this decree is, you guessed it, #GamerGate. As I covered at my regular gig over at BuzzPo back in March, Representative Clark discovered that one of #GamerGate’s most outspoken opponents lived in her district and reached out to offer her assistance. Said opponent is none other than video game developer Brianna Wu, who has made the rounds at numerous outlets complaining about the harassment and threats she’s allegedly received online.
After talking with Ms. Wu, Rep. Clark spoke to various law enforcement agencies and was disappointed by their seeming lack of interest in the situation. In her announcement she reiterates what she wrote in an op-ed for The Hill after her meeting with the FBI:
Too many women have had their lives upended by the severe threats and harassment they have received online, and they often feel they have nowhere to turn for help. These threats cause fear for personal safety, create a chilling effect on free speech, and have a negative economic impact for women conducting business online. That is why we’re asking the Department of Justice to enforce laws that are already on the books, and make these cases a priority.
It goes without saying that threats, doxxing (leaking someone’s personal information), stalking, and harassment are never ok, and law enforcement should take action whenever appropriate. The problem is that people like Brianna Wu often conflate harassment with other such hideous things like “disagreement”, “criticism”, and “entering a public conversation on Twitter uninvited.” Try as they might, they’re not going to get the FBI to waste resources sending a SWAT team to arrest some 13 year old kid for calling somebody names on Twitter.
Despite the histrionics, that’s typically what these things amount to, some kid using the anonymity the Internet provides to act like a jackass. Even the highly publicized cases usually turn out to be no real threat to anyone, and much to the chagrin of feminists everywhere, men are more likely to experience harassment online in general according to a recent Pew Research study.
The truth is, anybody who gets some level of fame on the Internet will be beset by anonymous trolls who have no agenda other than to ruin somebody’s day. It’s unfortunately the price we pay for having the freedom the Internet provides, and no amount of government meddling will change that.