The Banality of Cyber Discrimination, or, the Eternal Recurrence of September
Denver Law Review Online, Vol. 87, p. 5, 2010
6 Pages Posted: 17 Mar 2010 Last revised: 17 Mar 2016
Date Written: February 23, 2010
In the debate over how to regulate cyber harassment, there those who believe that cyber harassment is a serious phenomenon ("condemners") and those who think cyber harassment is not a serious phenomenon ("defenders"). What condemners often mean by calling cyber harassment serious is that it creates some kind of harm, whether criminal, tortious, discriminatory, or some combination of the three. What defenders often mean by arguing that cyber harassment is not serious is that it is an expected, predictable, and even valuable aspect of Internet interaction, the virtual equivalent of frat-boy antics and bathroom wall scribbles. In this short piece I argue that the defenders are largely correct in their description of cyber harassment as predictable, commonplace, and juvenile – in a word, banal – but that this very banality is what makes it both so effective and so harmful, especially as a form of discrimination. While there is little new or radical about the content of cyber harassment – the racist, sexist, and homophobic epithets, adolescent exultation in mindless profanity, and cheap camaraderie of sexual objectification and violence are all tropes straight from high school – the form of online harassment makes a world of difference. The capacity of the Internet to amplify, aggregate, and permanently record harassment can transform banal behavior into powerful discrimination.
Keywords: cyber harassment, online harassment, discrimination, civil rights, sexual harassment, sex discrimination, Internet harassment
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