If you weren’t able to join us at PAX Australia, you missed a strange, fascinating moment during the already powerful ‘Why We Won’t Just Log Off: Surviving Online Harassment’ panel.
A remarkable scene unfolded at the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre this past Saturday. Amid a panel about online harassment where two women had told heart wrenching stories about their own experiences, a man in street clothes–who had conferred with the moderator in whispers but moments before–took the stage and availed himself of an empty seat. “I’m Nobody,” he said by way of introduction before holding up a badge that caught the light, identifying him as a member of an Australian police force.
Those are the words of Katherine Cross, a gaming and cultural critic who attended the panel and covered it for Gamasutra (please note that the panel covered disturbing topics like abuse and violent threats). Our own Dr. B was there as well, joining Jennifer Scheurle of Flat Earth Games, Kelsey Gamble, and Alanah Pearce of IGN as a member of the panel. Pearce and Scheurle were there to tell their own stories, with Dr. B bringing in his mental health expertise and Gamble advocating for improvements in how platforms allow users to deal with abuse. Officer Nobody, as he chose to be called, wasn’t an invited panelist, but he contributed his own experience and understanding of the issues law enforcement deals with when trying to go after online abusers.
Cross details much of the panel, so take a look if you weren’t able to attend because it was a good one. Here are some of her thoughts on the points Dr. B raised:
Boccamazzo (or Dr. B as he prefers to be known) presented his own beliefs about the origins of online harassment, suggesting that it stemmed from “human nature” on the basis of a 1976 Seattle study about the origins of rule breaking. The study, he said, showed that anonymity, peer influence, and scapegoating were the primary drivers behind the individual decision to break with a rule or norm and suggested this was applicable to online harassment. This was an interesting remark to make on the heels of Pearce whose whole story was about how easily she could identify her harassers — right down to the names of their schools and parents. Anonymity plays its role in enabling abuse, but it’s a multifaceted problem.
Still, Dr. B’s remarks were profound in their compassion, and in his attempts to get the audience to understand, correctly, that harassment does not come from someone being “evil,” but from a place that any one of us could easily find ourselves in. That much is certainly quite apt, and he built on Pearce’s remarks — wherein she talked about sensing that the youth of her attackers meant that they could still be taught how to behave decently–by saying that it was up to men like him and others who were not immediately under attack to take up the task of educating others and intervening when someone you know is engaging in abuse.
But don’t just read about our part in the panel — Cross also covers the experiences of the women who discussed their own online abuse, more of what Officer Nobody had to say, and her critical view of the panel and current state of the online harassment epidemic. The full article is well-worth the read.
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