How to report online abuse?

reporting abuseWith recent high profile cases leading to public outcry for standardised procedures, the subject of online abuse has rarely found itself under such a spotlight.

How can online abuse be reported and managed?  Is it even possible?  What are the right questions to ask?  Where should the burden of responsibility rest?  Government, police and relevant authorities?  Website Owners?  Internet Service Providers?  Another body?

There still seems to be a great many more questions than there are clear answers on the subject.  It’s emotive and urgent, but it’s also deeply complicated and nobody wants to look foolish.

For the moment it appears that government is encouraging an environment of stringent self-regulation amongst individual website owners.  But it remains questionable whether this approach will genuinely lead to a safer online environment.

Not-for-profit mobile industry trade body, The Mobile Data Association believes that reporting online abuse, bullying or criminal activity is in danger of being fundamentally unmanageable.  This week it warned against different systems and mechanisms for reporting illegal online activity, claiming such a system would be inadequate, fragmented and difficult to manage.

Mike Hawkes, Chairman of the MDA, commented in a press release: “It currently seems that a proliferation of abuse reporting solutions is being encouraged without any national framework to regulate how the relevant authorities can process such reports.”

These issues are swamped under layers of technical, human and practical complexity.  Is it realistic for every social media service to be able to moderate everything?  Today social media and live chat is built into most apps, websites and games.  To expect a technically uniform process is a substantial challenge.

But it can be done, according to the MDA.

Thanks to funding from UK innovation agency, the Technology Strategy Board, a proof of concept has been developed for reporting abuse across all data-connected networks and platforms, instantly feeding information to authorities such as UK police forces.  The concept employs a single point of reporting online abuse, regardless of the platform or service used.

Their press release adds:

“It further promotes a consistent and trusted way for UK citizens to report cybercrime direct to the police, gathering relevant information without requiring the intervention of a website or application owner.”

The MDA is seeking to promote its Single Point Reporting concept and collaborate with stakeholders in its development.  View its release here: http://www.themda.org.

While it’s safe to say that this isn’t an issue with a quick fix, and there will probably be more controversy and further issues along the way, this concept shows a promising chink of light.  It suggests that there might be the technical ability to manage and report abuse in a unified, simple and cost effective way.

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