Networks of Empathy
46 Pages Posted: 7 Jul 2020 Last revised: 16 Dec 2022
Digital abuse is on the rise. People increasingly use technology to perpetrate and exacerbate abusive conduct like stalking and harassment, manipulating digital tools to control and harm their victims. By some accounts, 95% of domestic-abuse cases involve technology, while a sizeable chunk of the U.S. population now admits to having suffered or perpetrated serious abuse online. To make matters worse, people often trivialize digital abuse or underestimate its prevalence. Even among those who do appreciate its severity, there remains ample disagreement about how to address it.
Although law can be a powerful tool to regulate digital abuse, legal responses are by no means the only option. This Essay explores how both computer code and social norms can prevent and mitigate forms of digital abuse that aren’t easily addressed through law. These regulatory responses should be grounded in empathy for victims of digital abuse. Empathy demands imaginatively putting oneself in a victim’s place and attempting to feel as they feel—a trying task made easier by heeding victims’ stories. We can neither understand nor address digital abuse unless we view technology in a deeper social context and grapple with how and why digital abuse is harmful. This Essay urges key figures to exhibit greater empathy in developing code and norms to help victims, proposing ways that technologists, police officers, educators, employers, and victims can use these extralegal means to combat an increasingly pervasive form of abuse.
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