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.


  1. the daft prats that take to this sort will always be pompous same as 1000 years ago. the internet may right be a technological advancement as it is but really it's taken us backward as a society not forwards. all religious righteousness in the lords name in vain has ever done in the end is cause mayhem suffering and death. when theys go to meet their maker i'm sure he'll set them straight over their deeds. cant hide from gods all knowing self even on the internet and if the laws won't step up to take care of it you can bet thy justice will still be done if not in this life there's always the next

  2. Hiding behind political persuasions, religious misconstruances, absence of government with absolute freedom to hell raisers that's what we call anarchy! I see this nauseating abuse every day online in one form or another. March on Anna with your work. You carry the torch for all of us and our kids too!

  3. So well written Anna. I don't know why what you talk about is so hard for social media gurus and the people passing our laws to get through their thick heads. Already there's been too many suicides and lives ruined. How can't they see it has to change and by not changing it they're part of the problem and in a way I think they're responsible. If they had to deal with the cyber abuse or one of their friends or family did I bet they'd be tackling that immediately. It's sad to me and angering that it seems like they view all the other people in the world as expendable with valueless lives. What makes me maddest is the very things the US was founded on are adding into the problems of being able to do away with cyber abuse once and for all. Does anyone really think our founding fathers meant that free speech meant free to kill? No of course not.

    1. Appreciate your feedback Rosanna. The points you raise in your comments are valid and precisely the things we want people to be asking themselves. America does have some constitutional problems to face unlike other countries but free speech is contorted there by citisens who don't understand the meaning of some of the writings in those founding documents. Those who are in positions to adapt the laws in America are afraid they will be met with backlash by the public thinking the constitution is being violated when in fact it isn't. Another reason in America awareness efforts need continue forward. Thanks again for your excellent feedback. - David Simms, The Global Institute for Cyber Safety and Standards