When Danielle Citron began studying online harassment more than a decade ago, her argument that online mobs and coordinated harassment constituted civil-rights violations didn’t make sense to many of her colleagues. Now, the legal scholar works with some of the most important tech companies and lawmakers on finding ways to minimize harassment, which has grown from posting standard lies and insults to revenge porn and “deep fakes.” Earlier this year, Citron received a MacArthur “genius” grant for her work in the field. She spoke with Intelligencer about what’s changed over the last few years and what hasn’t.
When did you start studying online harassment and online interactions?
I began writing about privacy generally in 2006 and then focusing on online harassment in 2007, when we first saw (or at least they were first reporting about) attacks on women from all different walks of life online. Whether it was female law students being attacked on a message board called AutoAdmit that was really popular at the time for all information on college and grad schools, to Kathy Sierra — she was a software developer; she was writing about how to write code that makes you happy. Nothing deeply controversial.
And she was targeted on her blog and then on a few other blogs with sexually threatening, sexually demeaning lies and privacy invasion. And it basically chased her from participating in a big tech conference, giving a talk, [to] then hiding out in her house and really stopping blogging, which was a big part of her public outreach of the work that she was doing. She wrote a lot of books on programming, she was a writer, she was a tech developer, and she basically retreats for like a year. There were female law students from every law school — they were targeted on AutoAdmit.
Read the full interview at Intelligencer.