Monday, November 24, 2014

(Series Piece 7) 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

Most of us do not want to see it. Who would? Most of us do not want to call it out for what it really is. Why would we? Once we do, we then become socially accountable and can no longer enjoy the luxury of turning a blind eye to the suffering of others without betraying our conscience and disregarding our moral compass. That can be an overwhelming and helpless feeling, and a heavy cross to bear. It is much easier to pretend it’s not really there or that we are none the wiser to it. Still, once seen, it cannot be unseen. It is there, waiting conspicuously in the middle of the room to see if and when we will do something about it. Will we?

Cyber-slaughter. And yes, it is just as bloody a business as it sounds. Victims of all ages and both genders continue to die at an alarming and increasing rate. When we contemplate the number of attempted and fulfilled suicides that can be confirmed as consequential tragedies resulting from the virtual violent crime of cyber-abuse, and then add to that number even a reserved projection of all those we cannot confirm but can reasonably conclude are happening, the reality is staggering. That’s a lot of blood on the hands. But, whose hands?

If we are to manifest change in legislation, law enforcement, legal precedent, and operating standards of online accountability and social decency in the virtual realm, we must first define the conversation that will lead us there. There is much confusion in understanding how to distinguish one set of victim circumstances from another. Every cyber-abuse case can be measured on a continuum. They all begin somewhere, meander into the middle, and then ultimately reach an inevitable finality. Each instance differs in degree and has its own anatomy of factors that will determine how far to either end of the spectrum it will go, and whether it may result in suicide or recovery. The constant is the distinct and predictable pattern seen in abuser initiation and escalation, in contrast to the unpredictable responses and level of psychological trauma seen in either victim resistance or submission.

When we talk about virtual violent crime, it is important to understand how it is distinguished as such, and how it varies from other forms of online cruelty. Among the most commonly used terms to describe various virtual offenses are cyber-bullying and trolling. Both of these can result in extreme damage to both the life and psychological well-being of a victim. Cyber-bullying is often still thought of as an issue affecting children and adolescents whereby “bullies” bombard their victim with a cruel but reckless infliction of public humiliation and severe emotional distress. Trolling, on the other hand, is a non-specific and non-personal form of abuse that is more about the interaction between the trolls themselves than it is about their victims. It is an odious version of competitive gaming and an almost ritualistic popularity contest in which those who behave the most offensively are awarded the highest honors in status and earn virtual “street cred” among their peers. Most trolls have no particular interest in, or real hostility toward, the victims they use.

The virtual violent crime of cyber-abuse or “kill campaign” is something different altogether. Cyber-abuse is an umbrella term describing the pathology of abusers and the calculated methods and manipulations they use to carry out a malicious campaign aimed at a specifically targeted individual. A campaign is devised to hurt, harm, humiliate, and destroy that individual in every way possible. The intention is to kill a victim, leading to either a figurative or literal result. To do this, abusers will arm their assault with every tactic they can contrive. Their arsenal often includes illegality and their most commonly deployed weapons are privacy invasion, data theft, harassment, cyber-stalking, threats, intimidation, psychological terrorism, public humiliation, social engineering, mobbing, the planting of false realities and blatant lies on various websites, social networks and in search engine results, and going to extreme lengths to pry into the personal life of an individual in search of anything they can manipulate, warp out of context, or interpret as a possible blemish to then cause further harm, humiliation or damage to their victim by exploiting it. A cyber-abuse campaign is a twisted, delusional and illegal process of deliberate demolition wherein an online abuser makes nefarious use of the public reach and exposure of the internet to dismantle another human being. Abusers derive gleeful pleasure and experience a drug-like high as they feed their demented need to inflict the maximum amount of pain and suffering on their target prey.

Once you look past the barbaric cruelty, dirty tricks and predictable cloak and daggers an abuser will use to serve their motivations, cyber-slaughter is not particularly complex and is easy to detect. For the most part, it all looks fairly similar to what you might expect to see in a brutal assault carried out in the physical realm. First, a cyber-abuser will stalk their prey to size them up and plan their attack. When they are ready, they will hit their victim with a cowardly sucker punch out of left field. This is how they strike first, and they do so with such intentional force their victim sustains immediate and debilitating wounds. The victim is then hemorrhaging in a state of shock where they are unable to react or defend themselves as they are rendered defenselessly incapacitated. The assault continues as the cyber-abuser pummels their victim with relentless poundings. They do this so the victim cannot catch their breath, get their bearings, stand, or even pull themselves to their knees.

But as it is human nature, a victim will likely at some stage begin to rise after a certain amount of time has passed and the shock has subsided. Life does have to go on, even when under attack. This is when the abuser will batter their victim with shattering emotional blows in desperation to knock them face down and flat once again. Should the victim continue to rise, the abuser becomes angry and their frustration evident. They then up the ante and escalate from general assault and ridicule by posturing a position of intimidation, threat, and omnipotent control by publicizing a victim’s personal information, stolen data, or exploiting what they perceive to be potential insecurities about them. This process plays out until the victim has somehow managed to either overcome the trauma and emotional debilitation to reclaim their life, or they succumb to the excruciating and soul-destroying damage inflicted upon them to the point they seek desperate relief from the unbearable pain in the fulfillment of suicide.

Yes, cyber-slaughter is a bloody business and with a staggering number of victim suicides, that’s a lot of blood on the hands. But again, whose hands?

Is it on the cyber-abusers who devise vicious campaigns of deliberate demolition and aim to kill? Yes.

Is it on the law enforcement agencies and legislators who fail to protect victims? Yes.

Is it on the architects and builders of the virtual online world and its websites, forums and social media networks, who pass the buck by blaming third party content while enabling abusers to hide behind claims of free speech as they administer the most vitriolic abuse? And who allow their platforms to be exploited and used as weapons to kill? Yes.

Is it on the bystanders whose silence empowers cyber-abusers by conveying approval that condones their behavior? Yes.

Is it on the search engines, like Google and Bing, who allow the names of victims to appear in auto-suggest menus with unsubstantiated defamatory terms that propagate as abusers continue to type them in or click on them to maintain their presence? Yes. Imagine if you no longer existed in the public domain for who you really are and what you really do, and were replaced with a false reality of someone you are not and things you did not do. Imagine typing your name into a search engine and nothing indicating your business, hard work, organizations, clubs, accomplishments, etc., appears in the auto-suggestions. Instead, your name appears only with reputation tarnishing and life destroying terms such as “pedophile,” “rapist,” “child molester,” “schizophrenic,” “impostor,” “scammer,” “fraud,” “prison,” “criminal,” “kidnapper,” and so forth.

Any of these things are enough to make a victim want to die, and too often, they do.

So to all those responsible, whoever they may be, hear this. When they lower the latest victim of cyber-slaughter into the cold, dark ground, the rest of us will know it was you who put them there. And no matter how deep you bury your hands in your cold, dark pockets, we will still see the blood that stains them. If you cannot face the families and friends of the victims left destroyed, then wash your hands by taking personal, legal, or corporate accountability, and from this moment forward keep them clean. Do what you can, whoever you are and whatever your position, to bring this virtual violent crime to an end. Help ensure that nobody else is ever hurt or humiliated so badly in the public domain they are driven to die. And if you still don’t know what to do, let me simply ask you this…

What if it were you? What if it were someone you love?

No one has the right to abuse the internet to abuse you. No one has the right to rewrite who you are. Cyber-abuse kills. Doing the right thing is not a choice. It is a responsibility.

Heal, do not harm. And be kind online.

Monday, November 17, 2014

(Series Piece 6) 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

"It’s you. Not me.”

This is just one of the psychological manipulations that cyber-abusers use to posture control over their victims. But, they’re wrong.

A study of the mentality and inner mechanisms that lie beneath the manifestations of the deviant and criminally minded behaviors executed by a cyber-abuser can be an intimidating and downright frightening experience. That is, until we begin to recognize the pathological commonality seen in all cyber-abusers that really makes these individuals seem rather ordinary. There is nothing unique about any of them and their predictability can be easily measured. They employ the same tactics and display the same triggered responses seen in their tell-tale escalation of abuse, and their deflective reaction to being exposed for that abuse. Once this is understood they become much less scary, which often allows victims to maintain a higher level of emotional strength for a longer period of time. But tragically, for many victims of cyber-abuse, this understanding does not come before they have fulfilled suicide as a means to escape the trauma they have endured. The relentless abuse and resulting damages sustained by a victim will eventually begin to erode their sense of spirit and scar them with profound wounds to their soul. By the time a victim seeks the desperate relief of physical death, they have already died. The act of suicide becomes only a means to an end of their ongoing pain and suffering.

Cyber-abuse is a cruel act of dehumanization. This is a commonly seen trait among online abusers but is not a conscious process, rather an instinctual one. It is an inherent part of abuser pathology. The dehumanization of a victim allows an abuser to cast aside all human decency, morals, and compassion, and entitles them to simply ignore all governing laws. They strip a victim of individuality and identity; thereby justifying what is heinous and illegal behavior. By denying a victim to hold any level of human quality, abusers can then effectively manipulate a set of conditions in which to steal and bring a figurative end to the life of their target prey. It is the pinnacle we see among cyber-abusers of both cowardice and insecurity, ironically masked by an arrogantly self-inflated sense of power and influence. Cyberspace becomes their own personal domain where in their warped perception they can rule omnipotent and go unchallenged in whatever behavior they display. In their minds, they truly believe they deserve to abuse, humiliate, violate, defame, and assault the human dignity of their victims.

Cyber-abuse is selfish at its motivated core. Once abusers excuse themselves from behaving within the socially accepted norm, they are then enabled to equivalently commit virtual theft, assault, rape and murder without contemplation or remorse. In this vigilante or blood sport world they create, they derive an incredible amount of addictive pleasure from the pain and damage they inflict on their victim. The more they hurt, the more they want to hurt. The more they damage, the more they need to damage. This is what makes them so very dangerous and willing to go to any lengths to fulfill their purpose or feed their motivations. A dehumanized victim of cyber-abuse is in grave danger psychologically and physically because, to an abuser, their victim is an expendable life.  It is only a game piece with which to play and to feed the frenzy of their pathological need to destroy by causing as much pain as possible.

Similar to dehumanizing their victim, cyber-abusers separate themselves from their own identity through a process known as deindividuation. This is another tool used to deflect from personal responsibility and accountability for their inhuman online behavior. It is an anti-social and anti-normative function. In psychological terms, it is theorized that in the process of deindividuation, abusers experience a detachment from the inner compass that guides and dictates what is and is not acceptable behavior in society. Once detached, an abuser is then uninhibited and free in their vitriolic abuse without restraint. To justify this internally, abusers merely detach from the responsibility of their actions by subconsciously convincing themselves they are not responsible for them. As if they are having an out of body experience. This is also prevalent in mobbing mentality where we see abusers become part of a virtual vigilante or assault group. Deindividuation allows them to better fit in with the group and participate in collective behaviors. This contributes to their false sense of anonymity and a diffused responsibility in which they believe they cannot be singled out or blamed for their actions.

In daily life, we all hold our own sense of identity. That identity is confirmed and reinforced by those around us, such as family, friends, employers or colleagues. We are acutely aware of how we are relating to other people because the potential consequences to us if we behave badly keep us operating within the boundaries of the accepted set of standards enforced by the non-vocalized rules of social communication and interaction. This explains how cyber-abusers can be so barbaric and brutal online, even to the point of goading someone into fulfilling suicide, yet can be law abiding and seemingly decent people to interact with in the physical realm.

The effects of cyber-abuse are violent and they are real. They bridge the gap between the virtual world and the physical realm. Cyber-abusers exploit various social network services by using these online platforms as a virtual game board or battleground. Here, they lose their sense of reality. They dehumanize and deindividuize their victim. They do this to justify using the lives of others as game pieces in what is a twisted virtual video game of sorts, where the aim is to kill and points are collected in the deliberate demolition of their prey.

So you see…. it’s not you. It really is them.

But sadly, the ramifications to the victim of this virtual game manifest themselves in the real world. And it doesn't get more real than being so emotionally hurt and psychologically traumatized that fulfilling suicide becomes the only way to end the game.

Cyber-abuse kills. Game over.

Monday, November 10, 2014

(Series Piece 5) 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

I still remember that first day. It was the mid-90's and the afternoon had come for the installation of my own personal home computer. I laugh as I recall my excitement, wonder, awe, and undeniable intimidation of this heavy cream-colored block of technology that was the most awkward monstrosity in comparison to computers today. At the time, it was a cutting edge, top of the line PC, and as one of the first in my circle of young friends to own one, I sure felt like some kind of newly appointed royalty, or at least the cat’s pajamas. It was such an innocent time and I feel a bit sad knowing the naivete of it all is now lost to nostalgia. I will always have my memories; when Alta Vista was the King of Search Engines, when type-chatting in real-time with someone in Australia felt like harnessing the great powers of the universe, when the buzzing and beeping of a dial-up connection was an anticipatory delight, and the words, “You've Got Mail,” sent shock-waves of joy straight through me.

Yes, this internet thing was marvelous and I owned it! Nobody taught me how to use it. Nobody warned me about what could happen to me if I did. In between the chat rooms, email, online- games played live with others, and the wealth of information available to me at my fingertips, I had no idea the internet could destroy lives. None of us did. All of us old enough to witness the virtual birth of what would become a new and simultaneous civilization to the physical one we knew were tossed into the growing pains of something we could not fully comprehend, had no set of rules or guidebook for using, and could not have been expected to possess the foresight to predict what would come. That was then. This is now.

Thank goodness for our elders. Tragic accidents do happen, but it is fair to say that most of us never set ourselves on fire to find out flames would burn or drank poisonous cleaning chemicals to discover we would die from ingestion. We have an ingrained knowledge that certain sounds are soothing and ring of love, while others are harsh and uncomfortable even if we do not understand why. It is part of the same internal program that directs us to keep our mouths closed and our elbows off the dining room table when eating, clothe ourselves in the morning rather than running around naked, brush our teeth to prevent them falling out, and to know that committing acts of unruly behavior, theft and violence is wrong. We do not question these things nor do we require evidence of them. We were not born with this knowledge. It is a subconscious part of who we are because our parents began teaching us these things, and so much more, from the moment we entered this world.

In the mid-90's, a new virtual world was born; one destined to intermingle and interact with our daily physical lives. A world we, and all those who come after us, must navigate responsibly to ensure our safety, and the safety of others. We all possess a degree of common sense and have been rudimentarily warned through the years that to best protect ourselves we should never give online strangers our name, address, or other identifying details. But that is about where the advice, primarily geared toward keeping our children safe from pedophiles and young women safe from potential rapists, ends. Who is advising us about cyber-abuse; the kind of abuse that takes place every relentless day across the vast expanse of cyberspace and over any number of online networks? Who is teaching us how to keep our lives from being destroyed by online criminals who steal from us, release our private information, or plant blatant lies and false realities about us in the permanency of the public domain all in a malicious assault to tarnish our reputations so badly our personal and professional lives may never recover? Who is protecting and healing us from the extreme brutality and severe trauma inflicted on us by vicious and dangerous cyber-abusers running free throughout the halls of cyberspace every day, armed and aimed to kill? Who is teaching us how to save our lives, and the lives of others, from the fulfillment of suicide; like the online victims desperate to find relief from the emotional and mental pain, but cannot find recourse or means to escape those who relentlessly torment them? Who is teaching us not to be so cutting and heinously cruel to others online that it drives them to want to die? Who is explaining to us why cyber-abusers are allowed to commit virtual violent crimes under the mask of anonymity and the lack of accountability that comes with it? Nobody.

Like all pioneers, there is no one ahead of us to show the way. Nobody was there at the dawn of this new technological era to pass down their wisdom from hard lessons learned or to warn us of the turbulent waters we would sail through while learning what the internet was really all about, and how many of us would not survive the trip. We’re it. And because we’re it we have a great responsibility to those who are born today with a pacifier in one hand and an iPod in the other. We have learned enough and cannot deny it any longer. It is time to make our wisdom an intrinsic part of our children. Any parent hopes to make the world a better place so our children and their children will be better for it. We can all still learn, even now, and we must. We can create a safer online environment. We can learn to be more aware of our behavior and the damage it can cause others, we can learn to understand how little difference there really is between the physical and virtual worlds we live in today, and we can see to it that our lawmakers pass better legislation to enable law enforcement to provide faster and more effective recourse to online victims. But for all the things we can still learn, it will never come with the benefit of intrinsic wisdom, like that we can give our children. Without intrinsic wisdom, our knowledge is much more likely to be jaded, manipulated by own motivations, and questioned.

It is too late to begin imparting intrinsic wisdom into the programming of our pre-teens and teenagers about online safety and the fundamental basis for decency and kindness when traversing the virtual world. They are an unfortunate casualty rolled into the rapid growth of this medium and often, poor parental guidance and/or example. Can we expect young people to behave any differently than the adult behavior they so often witness on the internet? If you are a parent it is crucial to show your children that you are decisively opposed to, and categorically revolted by, cyber-aggression and cyber-assault of any kind. If you are a parent engaging in cyber-abuse and allowing your children, who are also your online peers, to witness your participation in the public maligning, humiliation, violation of basic rights, rape of dignity, and the vicious propagation of gossip and blatant lies about others, what are they learning? Cruelty. Who are they learning it from? You. Is that the future you want for them? Teach them to be better than you and better yourself in the process. And remember this: your children may not grow up to be like you. Instead of a cyber-abuser, they may one day find themselves the cyber-abused and contemplating suicide as their only means to escape their deep emotional wounds and profound trauma. It can happen to anyone, at any time, and for any reason. Your children will not be immune and the example you set for them now will determine how well they may deal with it in the future should they, or those they will love, ever become a target.

We must begin to instill intrinsic wisdom in our children. We must realize that even infants are beginning to interact with the online world in some way and that many toddlers are utilizing mobile devices on their own today. The internet and its technology are, and will continue to be, an inseparable element to the world for children born today. If we do not program and equip our children with the behavioral code of conduct they will need to avoid online hazards for themselves and others, we are remiss in our duty as both internet pioneers and as parents. Imagine if our parents had never taught us that fire would burn, chemicals could kill, and chewing with our mouths open is just plain rude.

As we teach our very small children to play with their siblings, share their toys, to look both ways before crossing the street, not to hit or hurt their playmates, and to obey the authority of their elders, we must teach them that people are indeed “real” inside cyberspace – and that they can be hurt. They must grow up to understand that virtual violent actions are crimes and have consequences that can sometimes kill. We tell our children that if they cannot say anything nice, they should say nothing at all. It is imperative we extend these teachings to the internet where for some people it is so easy to say whatever they want, regardless of the pain or damage it may cause others.

Teach your children well. Help ensure for them a safer, kinder, and more responsible future in the online world. A world they will spend even more time participating in than we already do.

Monday, November 3, 2014

(Series Piece 4) 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

“If you build it, they will come.” And so they have.

In all online interactions, more time is spent on social media sites than any other. Statistics reveal an extreme acceleration of growth in usage that is demonstrated by the 88 billion minutes logged in 2011 to an even more astonishing 121 billion just one year later. This has translated into the pursuit and achievement of enormous profits for sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, among several others, who make their money supplying interactive platforms for their online users. The architecture of cyberspace is a digital masterpiece. The networked systems intertwined in this virtual civilization comprise an information super-highway that is nothing less than a true marvel of technology. Sadly, in the complex blueprints and building of this vast and profitable online world, something fundamental has gone overlooked. And as a result, the creation of this marvel has come at a high price for a staggering number of users who have been left stranded in the darkest corners of the public domain.

To build comes with great responsibility. In the physical realm, we have learned this truth throughout history and, often, at painful consequence. These lessons learned provided us with invaluable hindsight that gave birth to the concept of “safety first” and led to the establishment of an enforceable set of standards governing all we aspire to build. Without this collection of laws, regulations, and ordinances put in place for the protection of people, the world we live in today would be fraught with danger and our lives impaired by hazardous conditions at every turn. Routinely, we would all witness tragedy. Homes would burn, buildings would collapse, airplanes would crash, bridges would fail, and restaurant patrons and hotel guests would become ill or injured. And so on. Fortunately, health and safety codes, while sometimes violated, keep those tragedies at a minimum. These requirements strictly mandate those who either engineer or functionally operate our society to keep us safe, as reasonably possible, by adhering to specific standards of precaution and protection. Why then is the same not true for the builders of our simultaneous virtual world? Considering the staggering number of suicides, and other tangible and traumatic damages that online victims are sustaining as a result of cyber-abuse, how can our lawmakers neglect to impose a similarly suitable set of safety regulations on our digital engineers? And how can so many of the builders of these online environments, playing host to such destructive abuse, deny any responsibility and disassociate themselves from all accountability?

Social media is the most interactive medium existing in the world today; having exploded in both usage and popularity from when first introduced in the virtual realm. The internet has given us ease of access to information but the social network system has redefined the means and manner in which we interact with one another. In these various networks and communities, we can now express ourselves creatively, share ideas, develop or maintain relationships, find emotional, educational, medical, or technical support, and even play virtual versions of our favorite board games with others – and we can do so anonymously. Unfortunately, as it stands now, embedded within the fiber of social media itself, are the ideal conditions to create an open channel for pathological deviancies to weaponize. And this is how, at the fingertips of cyber-abusers, these deviances become devices of mass destruction aimed at the victims they choose to target. This is not news to the companies at the helm of these profitable platforms. They cannot deny their awareness of what is going on and how their networks are so often being used. By allowing the abuse and exploitation of the social networks they have built, companies are, in effect, allowing the abuse and exploitation of their users. They are placing a higher value on the ability of cyber-abusers to freely harm others than on the protection of the victims whose lives are devastated as a result. Human decency, moral and ethical code, and basic common sense should be core values built into the operational policies, procedures, and practices of all domains on the internet, but most certainly all social networks providing interactivity with other users or the ability to leave public comments. Neglecting to provide victims an immediate form of intervention and relief by promptly addressing and removing all defamatory, abusive, harassing, and clearly malicious content posted by third-party visitors, these companies are condoning, and even encouraging, the continuance of what is indeed a virtual violent crime. A crime that destroys lives, and in a growing number of instances, ends them.

Common sense alone should dictate the appropriate addressing of cyber-abuse. If exercised, such an extreme double standard would not exist between the physical and virtual realms we simultaneously navigate in our daily experience. If a man were to stand up in a movie theater and begin screaming insults and obscenities at someone he takes issue with for some reason, the theater staff would demand he stop immediately, not to mention many other upset movie-goers witnessing his behavior while having their evenings interrupted. If the man did not cease his behavior, the staff would remove him from the premises or call the authorities who would do so, regardless of how justified the man felt in inflicting his abuse.  If a woman in a grocery store began harassing another shopper and pressed the intercom to broadcast unsubstantiated and defamatory claims about that person to the rest of store, she would be asked to leave her cart full of groceries and exit the premises immediately. If she refused to leave, the authorities would be called to escort her out of the building. These are two exaggerated examples that may, on some level, seem ridiculous. They would seem that way only because the social norms and accepted standards of our physical society generally prevent these situations from becoming commonplace realities. However, in very sharp contrast, we see these realities playing out daily in the public domain of the internet.

If our legal system, and accepted social standards, do not permit violence, assault, abuse, harassment, slander and/or the defamation of others designed to maliciously destroy a person’s reputation, career, relationships, dignity, and life as a whole, how then can the architects and operators of the internet allow these crimes to proliferate so rampantly over their websites, search engines, and social media networks? Shouldn't the builders of the internet, and various hosts of its social media sites, have a fundamental obligation to protect visitors from third-party abusers? Shouldn't they refuse to allow visitors to arbitrarily and anonymously post vicious and destructive comments or private data about others online? Shouldn't they be accountable for providing an open channel for cyber-abusers to intentionally plant false realities, blatant lies, harass, threaten and relentlessly humiliate their victims, often driving them to consider or fulfill suicide? Shouldn't they prevent these individuals from deliberately exploiting their platforms to propagate vitriolic virtual violent crimes to a potential audience of millions? Those are the questions. Ones we need to be asking. And more importantly, answering.

Cyber-abusers are solely responsible and accountable for the cruel and heinous devastation they purposely inflict on the lives of their targets. The architects and operators of cyberspace, and the social network systems within it, certainly cannot be blamed for the specific actions of these online criminals. However, just because they cannot be blamed for the abuse itself, does not remove them from the responsibility of hosting the poorly regulated services it plays out on. And it does not excuse them from neglecting to exercise basic common sense or moral decency in devising their practices, policies and procedures for dealing with the heinous and pandemic crime of cyber-abuse. If it would not be accepted in the physical world, they have an obligation to ensure it is not accepted in the virtual one. Crime is crime. Cruel is cruel. That is true whether it be online or off. So how could either of these go ignored; or worse yet, accepted?

It is time for the architects and operators of cyberspace, and hosts of all the social network platforms it is largely comprised of, to sit down in their boardrooms and ask the toughest questions of all. How many lives have already been destroyed by what we have built? And what are we going to do about it? As online victim suicide rates continue to rise, doing nothing can no longer be an option.