Monday, October 27, 2014

(Series Piece 3) Anna Kavanaugh - Syndicated Columnist. Column - Cyber Abuse: The Virtual Violent Crime

Written by: Anna Kavanaugh, Syndicated Columnist
Published for syndication by: The Global Institute for Cyber Safety and Standards

Religion, righteousness, and freedom of speech are unquestionably three of the most misconstrued and misused principles throughout history. But until recently, there has never been a time when this reality rang more true. The advent of the internet has provided the perfect breeding ground for behavioral hypocrisy, the justification of heresy, and the undermining of basic human decency by virtue of self-proclaimed morality.

Cyberspace offers its users the unrestrained and anonymous opportunity to express opinions, create and disseminate false statements or damaging innuendos about others, and vent vitriolic abuse aimed at a specific individual or the world at large. Unlike any other time in history, information planted in the vast public domain of the internet can travel around the world in a matter of minutes, reaching an audience of multi-millions. And it does not end there. Information posted to various websites, or preserved on social media venues, self-propagates as new users happen upon or are directed to it by various search engines indiscriminately presenting suggested search results and links to this material indexed from their web crawls. Yes, the internet is the water cooler of the modern era; the rumor mill of the age.

It is true the internet provides amazing potential for the building of relationships, sharing of knowledge and communications, and the immediate interplay of ideas between people around the world that would otherwise be impossible. It gives a platform for voices to be heard in expressions of free speech. Unfortunately, it is also a place where the legal foundations of free speech, the moral and ethical standards of righteousness, and the most fundamental concepts of most religious doctrines, have been redefined.

While it may be at the core of our democracy, contrary to what many believe, freedom of speech is not an absolute. It is often used as a manipulative tool of justification for vulgar, abusive, and utterly inhuman behavior. Freedom of speech does not grant anyone the freedom to abuse another person. Unsubstantiated and unproven statements, misleading innuendos, and false claims disseminated with the intention to assassinate the character and injure the reputation of another person are not protected under freedom of speech. This is true for the individuals who publish such statements and also those who regurgitate them.

Religion is another common veil of justification used by cyber-abusers. Some of the most vicious and profoundly cruel online abuse is perpetrated by those using their own spiritual beliefs as weapons of destruction. Nothing like religious idealism can conjure so much sadistic maltreatment of others. Some of the worst mob-like abuse derives from such groups as they band together to commence and partake in the virtual public stoning of those they victimize. The great hypocrisy is that the religious teachings these individuals hide behind do not endorse cruelty, malice, violence, humiliation, and hatred toward others. Cyber-abusers who fall in this category convince themselves, beyond all reason, evidence, and rationale, that their target – most often someone they have never met or spoken to – is wicked and deserves the punishment of God and the condemnation of His faithful followers; quite a different picture than a benevolent worshiper attending a Sunday service.

The sense of righteousness seen in cyber-abusers is similar to a religious veil of justification and is often displayed in their conduct, revealing an over-inflated sense of importance and global influence. This leads them to believe in an illusion of possessing special insight, intelligence, power, and privilege. These individuals play judge and jury in the online world while operating under the misguided notion they can somehow shape reality, rewrite history, and alter the life experience of others as they see fit. Both obnoxious and immature behaviors are very often noted as classic traits of this self-righteousness syndrome. By portraying themselves as morally superior, they often mask their own severe insecurities and fear of inferiority. We've all seen it before; those who run others down to try and raise themselves up. This type of behavior is rampant in the public domain and these individuals are extremely effective and dangerous in the damages they inflict on others without remorse of conscience.

Cruelty is never righteous, nor does it uphold or honor any religious doctrine. Cruelty is ugly. And it is wrong. Online abuse is not freedom of speech, nor is it noble or noteworthy. Online abuse is weak. And it is cowardly.

More study is needed to fully understand and categorize the pathology of cyber-abusive individuals; those who abuse the internet to abuse others using multiple cruel methods and terroristic tactics to do so. How do these individuals become convinced they hold the legal, moral, and spiritual license to publicly persecute others, most often those they have never even met? Why do cyber-abusers believe they have the authority to publicly shame, harass, accuse, and so badly emotionally wound and traumatize others that suicide becomes the perceived best option for victims to find relief? And who has stamped the approval allowing these online criminals to violate basic rights of privacy, to publish and exploit private data, to disseminate defamatory content and to invent false realities about others to suit their own motivations with deliberately malicious intent to destroy their targets? The answers are far simpler than the questions themselves. Cyber-abusers hold no license, possess no authority, and have been given no approval to justify their actions. They have appointed themselves to these self-serving omnipotent positions of power. But that does not mean we have escaped all responsibility for the nefariousness of their actions. We have condoned this pernicious culture by allowing it to develop in cyberspace. Until we decide this is not the society we will accept for our evolving virtual world, now fused so seamlessly with our physical realm, the pandemic of cyber-abuse we now face will continue to expand. More people will die as they are driven to suicide in their desperation for relief and eventually we will begin to see the degeneration of our society as the lines between what is acceptable behavior online and offline become all the more blurred. If we are apathetic and disregard the sounding alarms urging us to effectively address this crisis, who really can we blame?

The internet is a chaotic world that is inadequately regulated. By its very nature, it does not discourage reprehensible behaviors and the resulting damage inflicted so recklessly on others, but instead works to promote and encourage it. And that is what makes this still relatively new technological wonder a wild wilderness full of danger, fear, pain and death.

We can make this wilderness a much safer place to be. We just have to want to more than we need to.

Monday, October 20, 2014

(Series Piece 2) Anna Kavanaugh - Syndicated Columnist. Column - Cyber Abuse: The Virtual Violent Crime

Written by: Anna Kavanaugh, Syndicated Columnist
Published for syndication by: The Global Institute for Cyber Safety and Standards

The internet has become ground zero to some of the most vicious and profoundly cruel abuse afflicting our society today. It is a gateway for what we are only beginning to understand as virtual violent crime. As victim suicides continue to rise at staggering rates, it is imperative for us to change the dialogue regarding cyber-abuse. Contrary to the comforting advice passed down to children for generations, the online world has dramatically changed its meaning. The more accurate reality of today is this: sticks and stones may break bones, but words can really kill. And they are killing every day.

Bullying. It has been an unfortunate but commonly understood word in the history of our vocabulary. In many ways its meaning has now outgrown the word and today it is a misunderstood and inaccurate descriptor that has created a dangerous climate for victims struggling to survive without falling through the cracks. The term bullying is still widely viewed, interpreted, and responded to as a child’s issue. An issue that on one hand receives broad sympathy and concern while on the other is seen as a natural and unavoidable part of growing up. It is still commonly believed that being the victim of bullying builds character and strength and that those victims should simply ignore, toughen up to, and endure its traumatic effects. This generalized response to victims, particularly those who are late adolescents and adults, presents a serious set of ramifications that leaves them feeling isolated, embarrassed, minimized, invisible, ashamed, and often contemplating suicide as their only escape from the pain. The term bullying is not a one-size-fits-all word and bullying itself has changed. With the expanse of the internet, bullying has evolved into something much more menacing, sophisticated and perilous than our society has ever seen before. And the increasing number of victim suicides around the world is sounding alarms that we are indeed dealing with a new form of violent crime. One we cannot begin to effectively address until we begin to talk about it for what it really is.

The World Wide Web: A vast digital and invisible network wrapping the globe 24 hours a day. With billions of users accessing and viewing its contents, cyberspace has become the platform of our existence. It is a virtual civilization on which we have become dependent. We work, bank, shop, have relationships, educate and entertain ourselves all within this network, yet the online world operates without policing or any kind of meaningful protection. The virtual reach of the internet can turn hostile and invade our personal space to damage our physical lives outside of the computer. And danger does lurk in cyberspace, very often from people we would never suspect capable of the destructive behaviors they display online. These individuals disconnect from reality, all sense of right and wrong, good and evil, legal or illegal, and reveal their criminally minded nature in their actions. From behind their computer screens they will disseminate false information with deliberate intent to tarnish the reputation and damage the livelihood of their target, with no remorse for doing so. They feel safe in the perceived anonymity of the internet as they dehumanize, terrorize, and mercilessly assault others to feed their own motivations.

There is a pandemic disease rampant in cyberspace, one where those infected with deep-seated hatred, inner unresolved rage and a propensity for profound cruelty, feel entitled and empowered to perform heinous human crimes. Online, the crimes these perpetrators cannot act out in the physical realm are unleashed behind the cloak of their screens and keystrokes.

Cyber-abusers can be found in all walks of life, backgrounds and age groups, with late adolescents and adults being among the most savage and inhumane due to their level of sophistication in understanding how to cause catastrophic harm in the lives of others. We may know these individuals in our day to day lives, never suspecting their capability of carrying out unthinkable brutality in their actions towards others online. Cyber-abusers are highly skilled at manipulating reality, public perception and employing various tactical terroristic schemes. They exploit social media networks, such as Twitter and Facebook, and use them as a public stage to maximize victim humiliation and carry out their hate crimes. These online networks enable abusers to propagate false realities and engage in psychological terror tactics, threats and intimidation to execute the damage they inflict on their victims. With a wide variety of mobile devices and app programs available to online users, it is easier than ever for these individuals to have constant access to the controls of abuse. There is little difference seen between adult cyber-abusers and adolescents. The primary difference is that adults revert to adolescent behavior in which the full impact or consequences are not recognized. Adults are also more devious and cunning in plotting how to do the most harm to their victim’s life as a whole. What is the responsibility of the companies behind the social networks that built the platforms which are now exploited to host these crimes? That is a serious question we need to ask, and one we desperately need to answer.

Cyber-Abuse can happen to anyone. Children, teenagers and adults can all be ensnared by the nefarious actions of online individuals aiming to destroy their targeted prey. These individuals view the lives of others as mere game pieces with which to play and do so with great delight. Both adults and children suffer catastrophic and often permanent emotional damage that can drive them to suicide. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is a common diagnosis among victims of this type of crime. Emotional pain knows no age limit, and cyber-abusers are masters at extinguishing their victim’s sense of self-worth, love, hope, optimism, future outlook, identity, and joy of living life. For victims of cyber-abuse, no matter how strong their network of support there is often no stopping the erosion of their human spirit and self-esteem as they are relentlessly battered in the public domain before what is perceived as a worldwide and perpetual audience of millions. For too many victims, suicide is the only way to find relief from the constant public onslaught they are forced to endure. Society misunderstands the reach of cyber-abuse. Turning off the computer or blocking offending individuals is not a remedy. What is posted online propagates throughout a 24-hour virtual civilization and causes continual damage to a victim’s reputation, livelihood, relationships, and more. Unlike physical abuse, there is no relief from the virtual abuser. Victims are unable to retreat into a safe place to find the relief they need. The severe harm caused to a victim’s life takes on a life of its own in the perpetuity of cyberspace that feels inescapable. The damages a victim suffers are extreme and can also extend to their family and friends.

The effects of cyber-abuse are violent and real. If the severe, debilitating trauma and emotional wounds inflicted on victims of cyber-abuse would bleed like gunshot or stabbing wounds, we would all understand that cyber-abuse is a violent crime, and cyber-abusers are criminally intent on murder. Those who are victimized experience the same emotional trauma as if they were physically assaulted, whether it is by a mugging, battering, rape, or attempted murder. Cyber-abusers aim to kill. This may not be a conscious thought but it is what drives them. They are incapable of discerning real life from virtual life and the consequence of a potential victim suicide is stimulating to an abuser, it is not a deterrent. It feeds their inflated sense of omnipotence and power. To them, life and death is only a game in which they cannot stop until they have obliterated their target for the “win.” In the physical world, a violating crime committed against us generally comes and goes in a single traumatic event, leaving us with the emotional brokenness to then recover from. Cyber-abuse is the perpetual rape of our most basic human rights, spirit and soul. Victims are violated indefinitely on every level. There is no potential for healing and recovery from the severe trauma and damages a victim will sustain, as it is an ongoing and repetitive assault against their emotional and psychological selves. Again, it is crucial we understand that cyber-abusers aim to kill whether it is a conscious or unconscious thought, or a figurative or literal result. Cyber-abuse is a virtual violent crime. And until we begin to understand this, we cannot effectively save lives.

We must change our dialogue to ensure we are having the right conversation; the only conversation that will bring us to a safer, kinder, and more responsible online environment where people never suffer so much pain, trauma, and humiliation that they are driven to die as a means to escape it.

Monday, October 13, 2014

(Series Piece 1) Anna Kavanaugh - Syndicated Columnist. Launch of Column - Cyber Abuse: The Virtual Violent Crime

Written by: Anna Kavanaugh, Syndicated Columnist
Published for syndication by: The Global Institute for Cyber Safety and Standards

Recently, I enjoyed another of my routine marathon movie weekends, but this time with a twist. I found time to reflect on the profundity of the films I was revisiting, rather than skimming along the surface of the stories now naturally diluted in my familiarity with the scripts, actors and cinematic spectacles that films such as, “Braveheart,” “Troy,” “Gladiator,” and “The Passion of the Christ,” have given us. While these films may have been an unlikely catalyst, I suddenly found myself considering the pandemic of cyber-abuse through a lens I had not looked through before. The questions that have arisen for me are not ones I really want to ask, mostly because I fear the answers, but I more fear the consequences of failing to search for them. And so ask the questions, I will.

The Dark Ages, a period of time spanning some of the most extreme brutality in human history. What a barbaric bunch we were. What red stained soil we rose from. Times that, to declare ourselves righteous, saw savage crusades casting darkness over the lands in the name of God. Times that, for sport and entertainment, saw man pit against beast or fellow man until the prize of death determined the victor. And the crowds went wild. The more brutal the fight, the more we salivated. The more blood that spilled, the more we cheered. That was life. That was who we were. Thank goodness times have changed. Or have they?

We live in a culture of fear. Perhaps it is fear that keeps us in check, for the most part. In our daily lives we interact with one another in the physical world with a common understanding of right and wrong, acceptable and unacceptable, legal and illegal. Our lives are governed by a social norm and code of behavior monitored by the power of law enforcement we instinctively dread dealing with. We understand that when someone angers us at work, in a restaurant, or in a grocery store, it will not be socially or legally approved to launch a physical attack against that individual. If someone cuts us off in traffic, steps in front of us in line, or calls us names, we are not entitled to physically act against them. Our emotions may rage when we feel wronged but fear of being ostracized by our peers, or socially rejected and punished by law, prevents the majority of us from acting on those emotions. We simply find another way to deal with them. Our physical world demands that. Unfortunately, there is another world we must navigate simultaneously.

The internet. What began seemingly harmless enough has evolved into a fully functioning civilization, separate and yet co-existent with our offline civilization. It is still our own society comprising the virtual pulse of this new cyberworld, yet so many netizens become unrecognizable to their physical world norms in their capability to administer extreme cruelty from behind their computer screens. How quickly so many of us abandon our civility and embrace barbarism. Is this an inevitable human regression that occurs when we are thrust into an anonymous environment with no police presence or mechanism in place to hold us accountable for our actions, or is slipping back into brutality merely the human equivalent of a comfortable old shoe?

As our civilization has evolved, there has been a gradual shift in the paradigms of social behavior, human interaction, and the laws that govern them. This has allowed for a consideration of basic human rights and a higher value to be placed on human life and the preservation of it. We now live in a modern society that rejects those who commit acts of violence and will punish the heinous crime of murder most harshly. Yes, we have come a long way and pat ourselves on the back for our moral and ethical advancements. We boast our humane enlightenment and take pride, and even credit for, the undeniable traits that make us a remarkable species. Traits of benevolence and compassion we can now express as part of an evolved society sharing the human experience. Still, I find myself searching for a way to reconcile this image of the great humanity we have defined for ourselves with the daily evidence of its actions. Are we really enlightened or are we still living in the dark? Have we truly evolved or have we only restrained the most ghastly elements of our nature? How do we explain away the undeniable human capacity to maliciously hurt others with deliberate intent to destroy their lives and livelihood? To humiliate and demoralize others as publicly as possible: to perpetrate, condone, celebrate, and derive great pleasure from the crushing cruelty so many of us gleefully inflict on our fellow human beings?

Imposed civility and the function of fear seem to keep our physical society in order. Online, that is not the case. We are all only a click away from being marked as a target and finding ourselves thrown into a merciless abyss of personal vigilantism, misguided vengeance, self-righteous witch hunts and the need to feed on the hurt and public humiliation of others. In our virtual civilization there are no consistent laws or immediate recourse alternatives to provide victims relief from the deplorable conduct of those who abuse the internet to abuse others. This allows the worst of human nature to then manifest in frightening, dangerous and deadly ways. Online abusers relish their perceived anonymity and use it as a cloak to mask their cruel and illegal behavior. This is emboldened by an omnipotent sense of power and false sense of security in believing they are entirely immune to detection, scrutiny, judgment or ramifications. From behind the veil of their computer screens and insidious fingertips, these individuals reveal a shocking capability to inflict ruthless abuse on others and operate in the cyberworld with free reign. This alone makes the internet the most dangerous environment we have ever created, and with that should come great responsibility in how we allow it to evolve. Because the internet is an ideal conduit for these aberrant behaviors, they are rampant. A cyber-abuse campaign can lead to very real consequences that reach into the physical reality of a victim, resulting in devastating destruction.

The internet has given rise to a dangerous set of conditions that stimulate the primitive nature in certain individuals prone to violent tendencies and inner aggression. Cyber-abuse is a game to the abuser. The goal of a game is to win. For a cyber-abuser, the win is the ultimate destruction of their target, even if that results in driving their victim to death by suicide. This is a consequence an online abuser cannot comprehend because they lose the ability in their game-play to distinguish between right and wrong, humane and inhumane. They are masters of dehumanization and disconnect from any form of moral compass. No one has the right to abuse the internet to abuse you. No one has the right to rewrite who you are. And no one has the right to cause someone so much pain and public humiliation that they are driven to die just to escape the trauma. Cyber-abuse kills. And it will keep killing until we no longer allow it to.

Will 2014 be the year our lawmakers pass consistent and effective legislation to address this pandemic? Probably not. Will 2014 be the year we all stand up as an online community and say, “enough”? Probably not. The sad truth is that many more will die before we finally understand that far too many people are dying because the internet is being used to kill. So maybe for now, the best we can hope for is that we will begin to ask these questions of ourselves and others as we enter a new year.

Maybe we could all remind ourselves when online that none of us are immune from becoming the target of a cyber-abuse campaign. And that when one of us falls, so do we all.

Whatever the answers, this much I know: humanity has many redeeming qualities, but none more important than our ability to make the choice to be better tomorrow than we were yesterday. Barbaric tendencies may be at the root of our human nature, but because we can choose, we do not have to give them life in our actions.

Be kind online.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Introducing Anna Kavanaugh, Syndicated Columnist

By David Simms, Senior Contributor
The Global Institute for Cyber Safety and Standards

It is an honour to welcome Anna Kavanaugh to The Global Institute for Cyber Safety and Standards as an esteemed partner in our organisation. Anna is seated as a voting member on our Board of Advisors and a lead team member on our Coalition Committee. She will serve as a Senior Mentor and Co-Executive Director of Development in our education programme. Her positions will also be in tandem with her role as a syndicated columnist to be published by the Institute. We will be syndicating worldwide her cyber-abuse column aptly named Cyber Abuse: The Virtual Violent Crime.

Anna is recognised around the world as a renowned expert on cyber-abuse and online victims advocate. An active champion for change, she has a powerful and unique understanding as the target of an unspeakably grievous online cyber-abuse, hate, cruelty, and defamation campaign launched against her in 2011. Anna's is a distinctive and ardent voice in defining and describing what she rightly deems a global pandemic of virtual confusion whereby a societal breakdown of empathy and compassion confuse and pose serious threat to legal boundaries and civilised conduct.

Anna Kavanaugh is a writer, editor, speaker, radio show host, and is also an advocate for several humanitarian and environmental causes. She is the Founder and Director of The Anna Kavanaugh Charitable Foundation, and its cyber-abuse division, The Bully Battleground. The mission, core values and focus areas of the foundation’s work stems from Anna’s own life and are the driving force behind her passionate determination to help bring about social, political and legislative change. A primary goal of the foundation is suicide prevention for other victims desperately seeking relief. Empowerment and emotional repair, together with a wide array of other strategies, are used in her work to help victims reclaim their lives. Her personal journey has provided an intuitive sense for the support and services she believes are needed and has led Anna to an initiative of improving the lives of others while advocating change through the work of her foundation.

We will be publishing and syndicating worldwide Anna's column, Cyber Abuse: The Virtual Violent Crime, in the near future.