'We're at beginning of working out ethics of the internet', says online abuse victim

'We're at beginning of working out ethics of the internet', says online abuse victim

Emma Holten, a Danish writer and activist who was a victim of revenge porn, claimed the internet "reproduces the worst issues" of society at a riveting debate in Cannes last night.

The topic of the debate, hosted by Ogilvy Do and Intelligence Squared was, should one be prepared to face the consequences of broadcasting their life online by, for example, posting pictures on social media.

Arguing for the motion, were author, broadcaster and design consultant Stephen Bayley and Scott Galloway, the clinical professor at the New York University Stern School of Business.

Galloway’s points centred on the fact that everything involves risk and that you make a choice about whether the benefits of a technology outweigh the risks.

He argued: "If you spend a lot of time trying to convince people that you are damn interesting – like celebrities do" then you give up the right to decide when and where you get to draw the line.

"We knowingly put ourselves up for judgment. We knowingly and lovingly put ourselves at this peril and risk," he said.

His counterpart Bayley was far more scathing of the internet: "It’s a nasty bedlam of viciousness out there. Far better to avoid the bedlam and cultivate your own garden."

While the audience was originally in agreement with the motion, a fierce rebuke by Daniel Franklin, the executive editor of The Economist, and Holten moved the audience into a split vote.

Both Franklin and Holten argued that it was often not your choice about whether something is posted online about you.

Franklin said: "We all have smartphones with cameras. Your life could be broadcast online to the world without your knowledge and it can be impossible to prepare for the consequences if something goes viral.

"It’s like saying you should be prepared to sign up to a lynch mob."

He also argued that placing the onus of responsibility on the individual would stifle freedom of expression.

Holten eloquently argued that the problem was one of context. In 2011, her computer was hacked and naked photos of her were posted online. She became the victim of widespread online abuse. To take back control, she posted her own set of naked pictures. 

She said that while she was fully prepared to stand by the opinions she posts online, whatever she said was always interpreted in the context of her being a young woman.

As she said of the original pictures that were distributed against her will: "The pictures were not of a naked person, but a naked young woman. They spread far and wide because of that. The consequences and peril for me were far higher than others."

As she said of the abuse: "The response was the result of thousands of years of gender marginalisation. It’s not something I can escape by being more clever or funny."

She argued that it was important to recognise that the internet is not an equal democracy, but "a vacuum that reproduces the worst issues with our society", where prejudices are just as present as in the real world.

"We’re at the beginning of working out the ethics of the internet," she said. 

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