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Online Harassment: Does a Safe Space Exist Anymore?

Woman worried

Lewd and crude. Is there even a safe space anymore with the trauma of online harassment? I and my colleagues are the victims of ‘zoom bombing’ on a Love and Oneness panel discussion a few weeks ago.

As per Wikipedia:
Zoom bombing or Zoom raiding refers to the unwanted, disruptive intrusion, generally by Internet trolls, into a video-conference call. In a typical Zoom bombing incident, a teleconferencing session is hijacked by the insertion of material that is lewd, obscene, racist, misogynistic, homophobic, Islamophobic, or antisemitic in nature, typically resulting in the shutdown of the session.

One of my colleagues and I discussed what happened a few days later. He felt helpless because of a need to protect the guests on the podcast. Yet the sudden barrage of hate eventually shut down the online event. But, thankfully, the host kindly asked if each panelist wanted to continue and we did. 

I initially was crestfallen and nervous at what appeared on the screen. Usually, in a moment like this, your blood pressure goes up, teeth clench and your own superlatives fly out of your mouth.

Why am I talking about this now? I wanted time to process the experience as it is the first time I have been exposed to this.

I’m not a technical wizard nor do I want to be. Yet, I’m intrigued by the intentional chaos of hackers.

The more I examine the experience, the more questions I have about hackers. I will answer each as best I can from a perspective of compassion and empathy based on these three questions below:

  1. Is there an innate need to find a place to belong?
  2. What is the ill-fated grandeur of a hacker’s technical brilliance?
  3. What happens now that the ethical online code of boundaries is lost?

The New Face of Online Harassment

Zoom bombing is a new term added to the myriad of online harassment. As a result, you and I are on alert for any sort of hack – whether it’s identity or system hack. In the early days of Apple’s evolution, Wozniak is quoted as saying

“I was so pure. Now I realize others were not as pure, they were just trying to make money. But then I thought we were all pure,” (Wozniak 1986 interview).

What may have started as an innocent challenge back in 1986 is now escalating prejudice without accountability.

The slow-moving model of hybrid work and blurred corporate firewalls today continues to  accelerate due to the uncertain shifts with the COVID-19 pandemic.

Because of the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), is hacking now an endless train wreck loop?

Sort of like the movie Déjà vu versus The Taking of Pelham 123 (the fact that I chose Denzel Washington movies is coincidence or is it?). 

The more I seek answers to the hack, I come back to my first question: “Is there an innate need to find a place to belong?”

“How people treat you is their karma; how you react is yours.” ~ Dr. Wayne Dyer

Surprisingly, I remember taking a deep breath and shaking my head. The moment I let air out of my lungs, I realize I refuse to be a victim.

What? C’mon! At least frazzled or pissed off.

Quite the opposite. I felt a deep sorrow for the misguided perpetrators.

I knew then as I do now, it’s about them not me; and will continue to be about them (hackers).

Digital Intimidation: Silent Mix of Emotions

Make no mistake, the emotional trauma is real.

The psychological impact is long term for some. Victims’ experience include:

  • Sleepless nights
  • Anxiety attacks
  • Headaches
  • Migraines
  • Depression
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

“No one heals himself by wounding another.”
~ St. Ambrose.

Image by rawpixel.com

Victims describe this as being like a sexual assault. It impacts their ability to trust people and their personal relationships. The scale and severity of the hack, such as the Ashley Madison hack, prompted two individuals to take their lives.

Is the end goal to ruin lives of others to the point of suicide?

Whether hackers are hired by governments, or are themselves well organized, hidden in plain sight characters, seduced into the machinations of cat and mouse, the game has detrimental fall out.

At what cost?

Hacking continues to give individuals free access to the pre-pandemic vitriol of discrimination.

Why Do Hackers Choose To Be Censors of Your Safe Space?

“…nearly 87 per cent of YouTube compilations also contained racist, misogynist, homophobic and other objectionable content.”

Public shaming and oppression are the primary tactics to prevent people from standing up to authority and protect their civil rights.

It is abusive. As well as, openly targets women and people of colour. Why do offensive posts go up so fast but takes forever to pull down?

According to Oxford Dictionary, a safe space generally means “a place or environment in which a person or category of people can feel confident that they will not be exposed to discrimination, criticism, harassment or any other emotional or physical harm.”

A hacker invades your safe space – privacy.

An irreparable emotional breach impacts the countless minutes double checking passwords and firewalls. And endless days looking over your shoulder to make sure you’re not being stalked.

Or you may struggle with low self-esteem from bullying, abuse, neglect, etc. and now this trauma compromises your existing coping strategies.

You want to make it through the day without the looming threat of your identity stripped from you.

The offensive visuals and verbal barf of online harassment leaves an open fissure and reminds you how far the gap is in releasing hate. Hate is ugly.

Woman of Colour
Photo by Etty Fidele on Unsplash

You Mirror The Hate Within You

The Canadian Human Rights Commission statistics reveal the overt trauma women and people of colour deal with each day. This is a grim reminder a mirror cracked is never the same within oneself. (Source: Canadian Human Rights Commission)

  • Racialized Canadians earn an average of 81 cents to the dollar compared to other Canadians.
  • Black males living in Toronto are 3 times more likely to be stopped and asked for identification by police.
  • Employers are about 40% more likely to interview a job applicant with an English-sounding name despite identical education, skills, and experience.
  • 27% of the federal prison population in 2017 were Indigenous people, who only comprised 4.1% of the Canadian population (Statistics Canada, 2018).
  • 40% Employers are about 60% more likely to interview a job applicant with a Francophone-sounding name in Quebec, despite similar education, experience, and skills (Commission des droits de la personne et de la jeunesse du Québec 2012, in French only, PDF format).

These examples noted above of  unconscious biases spill over into online harassment.

There is little compensation from a hacker’s self-inflicted world of pain. By this I mean, a hacker’s low self-esteem or poor moral compass needn’t become your traumatic experience.

So, this leads me to ask question two, “What is the ill-fated grandeur of their technical brilliance?”

Is the hacker’s game about being the smartest person in the room?

Mobile Laptop

The divisive content sowed by online harassment creates both wariness and weariness as these statistics from Threat Post outline:

  • (46 percent) of women said they have had their social-media accounts hacked, compared with 37 percent of men.
  • Black people, Indigenous people, and people of color (BIPOC) have their social-media accounts attacked more often than white people do (45 percent compared with 40 percent); and BIPOC populations also face identity theft more often (21 percent compared with 15 percent)
  • Women feel the least private online (53 percent compared with 47 percent of men); they also feel the least safe (35 percent compared with 27 percent of men).

Online harassment is an attempt at intimidation with the long-term impact to silence the voices of gendered, racialized people. For some, it’s the disproportionate economic inability to launch legal action to stop the online harassment.

Anti-bullying Quote

How Long Do You Keep Bailing With a Life Jacket?

Hacked Glasses

“…it doesn’t matter how good your encryption is if your attacker can just read your data off the screen with you, and I promise they can.” (Quinn Norton Medium Blog – Everything is Broken)

The awful part of this is there is an acknowledgement that software security is bad.

The average person fails at some point to use software the way it’s intended because

 it’s either not intuitive enough or you have little patience to wade through the ‘how-to’ video chatter.

Seriously, can you install the security how-to video into the software (and I don’t mean 30-page PDFs or a community which has irrelevant support questions written for programmers) instead of sending me to YouTube.

And if the best software programmer/engineer is unable to keep up with blocking online harassment, is the solution to never turn on a mobile phone or laptop ever again?

Are You Better Off Without Technology?

This is possible. In a blip, a catastrophic solar flare can wipe out global electrical grids. Imagine the resurgence of walkie-talkies.

Instead of mean and misleading information, what if a hacker uses their ingenuity and imaginative technical skills to connect rather than disconnect humanity?

Now, there’s a thought – bring people together.

Take Back Your Power to Rebuild Your Safe Space

I refuse to go down the rabbit hole of spite and anger because compassion and empathy draws me to a place of forgiveness.

I can hear what some of you may say.

Where do you do find compassion when you’re being hated for being a woman and as a woman of colour?

During the time of processing after the incident, I breath and remind myself to say:

  1. Be kind to yourself
  2. Be mindful
  3. Show gratitude
  4. Find commonality with others

If I’m being honest, point four is tough. This means to suspend judgements and see the hacker as myself – human. 

Flowers

Because then I ask question three: What happens now that the ethical online code of boundaries is lost?

Compassionate empathy requires taking action to support other people. In what way do you support a hacker who is willing to disassociate from their responsibility towards the unity and inclusion of humanity?

Admittedly, it’s hard to see the other perspective when people’s mental and physical lives are put at risk for a brief minute of laughs.

I believe the ethical online code comes down to what a hacker knows is wrong and is courageous to say it’s wrong.

For example, the case of Marcus Hutchins. A brilliant young man from a middle-class family discovers his talent for creating programs with ones and zeros. He is very aware of the power of code and is lured into the dark web because of fast money. In the end, his conscience leads him to prevent a ransomware attack.

Therefore, I can feel compassion. It doesn’t mean to permit or tolerate what they do, however, I can take a moment to be aware there may be some suffering behind their actions.

What Do You Have To Offer The World?

Humanity is hurting. 

There is enough pressure on each of us to create a safe space to laugh, create, work without the racialized disruptions to leave a mark of hate.

According to The Top 10 Apple Statistics, there are “1.042 billion was the number of active iPhone units in 2020.” That’s 1.042 billion people and counting who will experience a lewd and crude hack in their life.

I wish these technical wizards hack into their hearts.

If your goal is to find your place in the world, start with the greater good. Direct your energies into innovative solutions to address global warming, discover technologies and programs to bring humanity together.

The essence of unity promotes fairness in each of us; a kind truth which respects all that is shared and given. 

This requires an acute acceptance of self-worth, respect of self and each other. It demands you allow each individual the right to celebrate their gender and race in peace.

I choose to find compassion because I give you what I choose to feel about myself – love.

Sometimes life will hit you in the head with a brick, don’t lose faith. ~ Steve Jobs

Her Story:  Your choice to inspire embraces humanity’s need for love and peace. Choose unity over division.

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