Friday, April 13, 2007

Yes, I've read Gavin de Becker.

I've been thinking for several days about internet threats and how we analogize them to more conventional ones. For example, say I publish an op-ed in the paper that a lot of people disagree with. They want to silence me. (If it makes you feel better, substitute Ann Coulter for me in these examples, since that might actually happen.)

Someone Photoshops a picture of me wearing a ball gag and mails it to my home. Threatening? Sure. The person is a creep who has just demonstrated that he knows where I live.

What if the same person put up a billboard with that picture in my town (assuming for the sake of argument that you could)? Threatening? What if it's across the street from my place of business, so I can't help but see it? What if it's on the other side of town, where wouldn't normally see it but could drive to look at it if I wanted?

Now let's move this to cyberspace. E-mailing me the Photoshopped picture would be creepy and threatening, but less so than mailing it to my home. Trying to post it to my blog would be another close analogue. But what about posting it to other sites? If a dozen haters are having a conversation/Photoshop contest to bash me and make clear how much they want me to shut up, are they threatening me if they don't direct me to the site and I find it on my own?

Just like it seems different for someone to say to your face, "I'd like to cut off your head with a chainsaw," versus saying the same thing in a conversation with fellow haters that I happen to overhear, it seems less threatening for people to direct violent comments on their own websites than via your blog or e-mail.

I know there are psychos on the internet. One of them killed an ex-boyfriend of mine. But I'm not sure that we ought to treat all threatening internet speech as equally serious.
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