Thursday, October 29, 2015

Written by Anna Kavanaugh - Cyber Abuse: The Virtual Violent Crime - Rerun of Syndication

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

GICSS was honoured to partner with Anna Kavanaugh last year and publish through our organisation
her outstanding column for syndication, Cyber Abuse: The Virtual Violent Crime. Anna writes with a unique voice and is well respected for her expertise and excellent insights into the pathology of cyber-abusers and what she in part terms as vandalism to the lives of victims. We are grateful for her continuing work in the cyber safety and standards community, in front and behind the scenes. Her contribution to our Board of Advisors and Coalition Committee has been invaluable and the work she has provided us as a Senior Mentor and Co-Executive Director of Development in our education programme has been equally indispensable. 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 has been a determined force and guide for our organisation and has worked tirelessly with us over the year to help us develop our five year mentorship plan, combining a growing number of countries in adopting a common message and forward direction to change. The internet is so widely used by those of all age groups and walks of life, we consider cyber safety a paramount issue that must be addressed multilaterally without prejudice in gender, ethnicity, region, social class, or circumstances. She continues to help us build and implement our global action portfolio in educational forums around the world.

As we conclude the latest phase of our action and development protocol, GICSS will also resume the publication of Anna's column for syndication. For reader continuity we will preface the publication of her upcoming pieces by re-running her first round together with other highlights of her cyber-abuse work.

Monday, January 26, 2015

(Series Piece 11) Anna Kavanaugh - Syndicated Columnist. Column - Cyber Abuse: The Virtual Violent Crime

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

It is an ugly truth. Our society victimizes its victims. To face that reality is a heavy cross to bear. That’s why we don’t.

This is the real world. We all know it can be rough. We are taught that to survive it we just have to learn to take a punch and turn the other cheek more often than not. Sage advice but it neglects to acknowledge the certitude that there are only so many hits a person can take before they break. This is real life. And if you have been targeted by a cyber-abuser, you already know they will go to any length to end yours.

When revictimization is discussed it is generally in reference to the recurrence of extreme personal violations seen in survivors of rape, sexual abuse, and domestic assault cases. Those are the instances that get most talked about, as they should. Unfortunately, our social and judicial system is geared for the revictimization of victims in a myriad of other circumstances as well and, because it is, too many of them are falling through the cracks.

It happens with victims of voyeurism. Not only does a victim suffer the initial discovery and resulting trauma in realizing their most intimate moments have been videotaped or recorded, they are made to suffer it multiple times. The police become involved and countless officers watch the evidence as do the victim’s attorney and legal team. The details of that evidence are spelled out in court documents and then the victim must recount it as it is replayed again at trial only this time, they must do so in the company of the very offender who so grievously violated them. Similarly, this is also what rape victims must endure. These are just two extreme examples to demonstrate the ongoing trauma and psychological damage that our system, by its very nature, imposes on victims seeking justice, remedy, and relief for the criminal offenses committed against them.

The virtual violent crime of cyber-abuse is about dehumanization. Cyber-abusers aim to kill. They do this by exploiting social media platforms to relentlessly assault the self-esteem and dignity of their victim and by launching deliberate “kill campaigns” designed to assassinate the reputation, career, livelihood, relationships, and overall life of their target. It is not a singular event and allows abusers to reign over their victims in the public domain for years. The residual effects of such a campaign also creates ongoing trauma and damage as the planted false realities and blatant lies about a victim can be indefinitely preserved on the internet and available for perpetual access and propagation.

Revictimization is a common and key contributing factor to the long term suffering of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder often diagnosed in victims. There are many avenues in which this occurs, beginning with the public longevity and sustaining presence of a “kill campaign” and the intentional falsehoods on which it is founded. Victims also suffer from the inaction or silent condoning of bystanders who are too afraid to speak out for what is right when they can clearly see what is wrong, or worse yet, refuse to acknowledge they see anything at all. This is another form of dehumanization serving to condition a victim to believe that in the face of gross injustice and violation they do not matter, nobody will help them, and they are worthless in the eyes of others.

When a victim of cyber-abuse reaches out for professional help they are often revictimized again. Law enforcement may not be in a position to intervene due to the lack of physical threat or the needed state legislation allowing them to act. A victim then retains an attorney to pursue litigation only to find the costs are so prohibitive they cannot proceed unless they are willing to mortgage their home, empty out their savings, or sell their possessions… all of which place a further burden and hardship upon them. A victim may also need ongoing psychological counseling to help them deal with suicidal thoughts or clinical depression as they try to reclaim their lives by learning to cope with the indefinite perpetuation of the damages they have sustained.

This all revictimizes the victim and creates a cruel and vicious cycle of emotional trauma sustained.

Victims of cyber-abuse do not want sympathy. They are not looking for attention. Nobody would want the type of focus that a “kill campaign” thrusts upon them. All a victim wants is to return to a state of living their life without the criminal psychological terrorism, harassing interference, false realities, and blatant lies that have all been wielded against them by pathologically driven cyber-abusers who feed on destroying or humiliating others as much, and as publicly, as possible and who are intent on maximizing the murderous destruction they aim to exact in their victim's tangible "real world" existence.

Sadly, once much of the damage is done, there is no repair.

It is imperative for our federal and state legislators to pass consistent laws that better enable enforcement agencies to respond promptly to cyber-abuse cases. The revictimization of cyber-abuse victims by a systematic failure of our social and judicial system only compounds, and effectively assists, the criminal intentions of online abusers in the achievement of their ultimate goal, and makes suicide look to victims like the only available option they have for escaping their tormentors.

The virtual violent crime of cyber-abuse is real. It is rampant. It is relentless. Our system in dealing with crime, particularly new forms of crime, is broken. When the very legal system put in place to protect our citizens finds itself in the position of helping criminals fulfill the harm they intend to inflict, something is catastrophically wrong.

This is real life. And too many victims of cyber-abuse are losing theirs. It is long overdue for us to do something about that. We cannot change yesterday. We can change tomorrow… and as they say, it’s better late than never, though that will forever fall short in bringing solace to the loved ones of the online victims we have already lost in their desperate search for relief by fulfilling suicide.

Monday, January 19, 2015

(Series Piece 10) 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 are in the business of information, you had better get it right.

Search engines. We use them every day. Google, Bing, Dogpile, Yahoo, and all the others, give us immediate access to infinite amounts of organized data that we can use to learn something we did not know, keep up with world events, connect and communicate with others, or simply feed the insatiable and voyeuristic curiosities so many people somehow find time to indulge themselves in. The immense index that serves as the roadmap for our individual online experience in navigating the World Wide Web is now such a seamless part of daily life that most of us would feel lost or anxious without it. By way of gradual conditioning, the subconscious notion has been ingrained in us that tangible resources such as dictionaries, encyclopedias, and other general reference materials, have become less reliable and far more cumbersome sources of information. That is both a sad and incredibly frightening reality.

We tend to believe, without question, that search engines are the most authoritative voice we should turn to when seeking knowledge. However, as with all things dominative, there is an inherent danger that has emerged in tandem with such online search prevalency. Trusting search engines with implicit faith is a risky venture when it comes to placing our reliance on, or building our convictions upon, the results returned or suggested to us. Even when there is little hazard to the individual conducting a specific search, the online exchange between user and search engine response can simultaneously create enormous damage to the subject source, when that source is another individual. The issue here is the deliberate exploitation of the public domain leading to search engines readily returning gross inaccuracies, maliciously planted false realities, and downright blatant lies, in their results… or worse yet, offering them up as “auto-suggestions” for unsuspecting users not even looking for them but then who internalize assumptions based on what they have been provided, and who then further disseminate them. This is a common and easily available weapon of virtual warfare exploited by cyber-abusers. They count on search engines to help carry out the mass propagation of defamation and abuse campaigns designed to assassinate the reputation and credibility of their target, and to ultimately maximize the trauma, public humiliation, and the long term sustaining of damages deliberately inflicted on their victim.

As we ask the same question to social media providers, such as Facebook and Twitter, who allow their platforms to be exploited and used in the virtual violent crime of cyber-abuse, we must also ask why search engines are allowing their indexes to propagate, perpetuate, and essentially assist cyber-abusers in the execution of victim “kill” campaigns. Search engines have already been successfully sued over auto-complete results returning defamatory and unsubstantiated terms such as “fraud” or other libelous descriptors linked to an individual. Even still, many have made no changes to their search system that would rectify and limit damages to victims of cyber-abuse. This means that victims must file a lawsuit to have the terms removed. For most, the legal costs involved are far too prohibitive to pursue litigation, subsequent justice, and relief. The perpetual presence of blatantly defamatory terms in the auto-suggestions of search engines plays a significant role in the trauma inflicted on targets of malicious cyber-abuse campaigns and is also an undeniable contributing factor in the resulting suicides fulfilled by victims.

People are heavily influenced, if not driven by, subconscious perception and societal programming. The motivational influences of our impression formation and the characteristic “pack” or “herd” mentality exhibited in human beings have been studied. We are intrinsically geared to identify the leader we are to follow. When in doubt as to who that may be, where we are to go, or what we are to do, we just follow everyone else. In the world of online information the leadership role translates to the specific search engine providing data results and is perceived to be from an authoritative voice. When search engines arbitrarily present auto-suggestions to users, which may not have even been part of the original search query, they do so with dangerous implications. Users subliminally interpret those suggestions as sound and trustworthy guidance where in effect the search engine is saying, “this is most relevant to the individual you are searching,” or “this is what you need to know above all else,” or “this must be what you are looking for.” Search companies want to return accurate results based on complex algorithms consisting of stats on collective input behaviors. But when cyber-abusers and their malicious “kill” campaigns exploit such framework services in the public domain by deliberately planting false realities, blatant lies, and unsubstantiated claims into the vast expanse of the internet, those results can create catastrophic consequences that propagate and perpetuate ongoing damage indefinitely in the lives of online victims. This is too easy and convenient a method for virtual vandals to plant the proliferation of malevolent gossip and falsehoods about the targets they wish to destroy.

If the owners of these companies, or someone they loved, were to type in their name expecting to see results directing others to their work, accomplishments, and activities, but were instead to find only humiliating inferences, defamatory terms, blatant lies, or false claims, associated with their names, those results would be promptly removed. Similarly, as we have seen in precedent setting court cases, if an online victim of cyber-abuse has the financial means to sustain the staggering legal expense of litigation, they will likely win a judgment forcing search engines to disassociate the reputation-destroying terms that have been linked to their names based on input search popularity.

What happens to a victim not personally so favored? What happens to a victim who cannot bear the often prohibitive legal costs of litigation? They suffer. They continue to sustain damages. They are effectively stripped of their identity, credibility, reputation, and equal opportunities. That’s what happens. They suffer until they either find a way to live with the injustice of the maliciously contrived public shame inflicted upon them or until they can no longer live with the ongoing trauma of that injustice and fulfill suicide to bring an end to their emotional agony.

Search engines want to own and organize information. If you are in the business of marketing information and presenting yourself to be an authoritative source in providing it, you have a basic responsibility to the public. Presenting arbitrary auto-suggestions that directly link private citizens to defamatory and unsubstantiated claims is nothing short of reckless. When we are talking about people’s personal lives, relationships, reputations, careers, and livelihoods, there must be a fundamental degree of common sense and good judgment applied to any online service, whether it be social media sites or search engines. If you can’t get it right, at least don’t get it so wrong.

Something is badly broken when the lives of cyber-abuse victims depend on preferential justice, remedy, or relief. But then, no court mandate could ever repair all the damage done to a victim. Such is the way of malevolent gossip and those cruel enough to seed it. I am reminded of an exceptionally potent scene from the film, “Doubt,” starring the late, great Philip Seymour Hoffman and the venerable Meryl Streep. The script is a superb and intentionally unresolved examination of the ruinous and unrestrained nature behind the proliferative spreading of unsubstantiated claims.

In the film, Hoffman portrays a Catholic priest, Father Flynn, who is scrutinized by school principal, Sister Aloysius, played by Streep. Hoffman delivers the following sermon:

“A woman was gossiping with her friend about a man whom they hardly knew – I know none of you have ever done this. That night, she had a dream. A great hand appeared over her and pointed down on her. She was immediately seized with an overwhelming sense of guilt. The next day she went to confession. She got the old parish priest, Father O’ Rourke, and she told him the whole thing.

‘Is gossiping a sin?’ she asked the old man. ‘Was that God All Mighty’s hand pointing down at me? Should I ask for your absolution? Father, have I done something wrong?’

‘Yes,’ Father O’ Rourke answered her. ‘Yes, you ignorant, badly-brought-up female. You have borne false witness on your neighbor. You played fast and loose with his reputation, and you should be heartily ashamed.’

So, the woman said she was sorry, and asked for forgiveness.

‘Not so fast,’ says O’ Rourke. ‘I want you to go home, take a pillow upon your roof, cut it open with a knife, and return here to me.’

So, the woman went home. She took a pillow off her bed, a knife from the drawer, went up the fire escape to her roof, and stabbed the pillow. Then she went back to the old parish priest as instructed.
‘Did you gut the pillow with a knife?’ he says.

‘Yes, Father.’

‘And what were the results?’

‘Feathers,’ she said.

‘Feathers?’ he repeated.

‘Feathers; everywhere, Father.’

‘Now I want you to go back and gather up every last feather that flew out onto the wind.’

‘Well,’ she said, ‘it can’t be done. I don’t know where they went. The wind took them all over.’

‘And that,’ said Father O’ Rourke, ‘is gossip!’"

Monday, January 12, 2015

(Series Piece 9) 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

Whatever happened to the good old days?

It used to be when we were upset, rejected, blinded by jealousy, had a grievance with someone, held a negative judgment of another, or were just plain done wrong - we aired those sour, unhappy or jilted feelings by complaining to our circle of family and friends. Sure, we could do a bit of damage to the villainous object of our detestation by poisoning the well with our self-serving emotional crusade in desperate search of garnering the sympathy and validation that in theory would somehow make us feel better. No matter how potent, persuasive, and vindictive our histrionic outbursts were, the depth of damage we could create for others was confined by limited reach to an audience that likely was not all that interested, and always counterbalanced by “the other side of the story.” We did not contact someone’s place of work attempting to get them fired by wheedling their boss with personal tales of our distress. We did not publish our version of dirty laundry in the newspaper, on billboards, or flyers left on random car windshields. We did not write to clubs, organizations, restaurants, churches, and gas stations urging them to refuse entry or service to a patron. We did not exploit the world available to us with the intent to destroy every aspect of someone’s reputation, livelihood, and life. Do these things sound absurd? Of course they do. That is why we did not do them.

We just cried, complained and groused about our feelings to the people who were part of, and among the closest, in our lives… those obligated, if not compelled to, commiserate with us. We did this until our emotions began to calm along with our need to vent them. That was what we did. That was what we were supposed to do. That is what we should still be doing today.

Oh yes, those were the good old days. But then, the internet happened.

Imagine this for a moment. You spend years working hard, making sacrifices, paying your dues, and saving your pennies. You finally have enough in the piggy bank to buy your own home, with or without the help and accompanying interest rate of a supporting mortgage. You finally move into your new several-hundred-thousand dollar personal space and then spend thousands more on remodeling, decorating, or landscaping the private oasis that you and your family will call home for years to come.

Suddenly, a vandal is on the loose. Perhaps your business has a disgruntled customer or client. Perhaps someone saw you run a four-way stop at the end of the street by a school bus crossing. Perhaps you betrayed a friend, made some off color remarks in the grocery store, had a fling with your neighbor, ended a relationship, broke someone’s heart, stole cable television service for your spare bedroom, didn't pay your taxes, or maybe you’re just not everyone’s cup of tea. So now, whoever in the universe you have allegedly offended approaches your house. It’s not difficult. It is located on the street where anyone can pull up in front of your door and have easy access. They saw down your trees, rip out your lawn and other landscaping, tear off your roof shingles, and sledgehammer your chimney. They smash your fine china and crystal ware, flush your valuable jewelry down the toilet, and then torch the drapes in your living room. From the curb, they watch in vengeful delight as your home, and everything in it, goes up in flames. The home you earned through hard work and sacrifice burns to the ground until only ashes remain.

This is, among other things, criminal vandalization. If you are a smart homeowner then you would at least have insurance to recover your losses, repair the destruction to your life, and rebuild. Though there are some damages that not even the best of policies can mend.

Fortunately, in the physical realm of our society this does not happen. We have grievances with others all the time. People hurt, offend, disrespect, and violate us in any number of ways. And if the wrong is so severe that we cannot simply let it go, we have a legal system put in place that allows us to file suit against those we believe have somehow wronged or damaged us. It is this fair method of conflict resolution that we as a society know to be the appropriate and accepted process for remedy, should such measures be necessary. We have no legal right, no matter how angry, hurt, jealous, or envious we may be, to help ourselves to any kind of self-defined vigilante justice by bringing destructive harm to another in the form of self-justified revenge.

Sadly, the same cannot be said for the online world and the virtual society we have created. There are no life insurance policies available for its users to buy. While many of us simply transfer the social standards and legal practices of the physical realm to our internet experience, cyber-abusers and exploiters do not. Their inability to do so is a common element in the pathology that drives their behavior.

A cyber-abuser sees nothing wrong, strange, or unusual, about inflating a set of emotionalized and self-serving circumstances that are personal, private, and pertain only to them and those involved with them, by publicizing those circumstances on a universal scale in the public domain of the internet. This taps into a part of their pathological belief that convinces them their sentiments on an issue must be heard because they are deserving of worldwide attention and are of global importance. They perceive themselves to be anointed “truth” tellers and view their actions and behavior as righteous, when in reality their actions and behavior are vindictive and their personal conflicts, envies, jealousies, or relationships are relevant only to a finite sphere of significance in their physical lives.

This is how and why cyber-abusers intentionally exploit the internet to cause severe harm and damage to others. From the start, their aim is to destroy. Much like the exaggerated home scenario I used before, they deliberately set out to vandalize a person’s life, reputation and livelihood simply because they can and have easy access to do so. The internet provides them the limitless audience they crave with the potential to create the most severe and long lasting damage to their victim and the vigilante reign to exact their desired revenge.

In our hybrid society of today, balancing our professional and personal lives between our physical and virtual realms, many of us conduct business, interact with potential customers or clients, or manage our reputations, interests, and skills on the internet. With no restrictions in place to govern our virtual society it is easily exploited by those seeking to self-serve. As a result, relationships, careers, and even entire lives can be ruined, or severely crippled, within hours.

The internet should not be used as a weapon of manipulation and tool of psychological terrorism in which to hurt, harm, or humiliate others. For all the brilliance we have created, and the internet is certainly among the most jaw dropping with the most potential for good, we have effectively invented a quick and easy way to allow online vandals to burn down homes, investments… lives.

And the other shoe drops. This is where we must decide what our virtual society will be and if we will continue to allow cyber-abusers who aim to kill, in any way they can, to vandalize the lives of others.

Have you ever upset anyone? Have you ever broken a promise? Have you ever ended a relationship badly, hurt another person, made a mistake, told a lie, cheated, provided poor service, snapped at a customer, said a bad word, didn’t pay someone back the money they loaned you, stole fruit off of your neighbor’s apple tree, or sneezed on someone’s sandwich and served it anyway? Have you ever done anything wrong or had any bad thoughts run through your mind? Ever? Of course you have.

Should we burn your house down? Should we try to damage your reputation and career hoping we can thwart your income and deny you a living? Though you live in Florida should we make sure everyone in California knows that we think you are a loathsome person?

Of course not.

Twitter is not a courtroom. What cyber-abusers need to be taught with swift justice and exposure is that they are not the judge. And that whatever vigilante sentence they believe themselves righteous and important enough to hand down by using the global stage of the internet… that sentence will be overturned.

Case dismissed.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Anna Kavanaugh - Syndicated Columnist - Column Announcement

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

Holidays at end, our syndicated publication of Anna Kavanaugh's brilliant column, Cyber Abuse: TheVirtual Violent Crime, will resume next Monday, 12th January. We invite you to refer back then to read Anna's latest informative commentary. Meanwhile, you may review past columns previously published below.

Thank you. - David Simms, The Global Institute for Cyber Safety and Standards.