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Unwilling Avatars: Harassment, Idealism, and Liberty in Cyberspace
Unformatted Document Text:  DRAFT: PLEASE DO NOT CITE OR CIRCULATE WITHOUT PERMISSION Franks 50 It is probable that this in itself would reduce the likelihood of harassment, as it has done in real space, especially if the penalties for engaging in harassment were made clear (e.g., deletion of posts, banning). The harassment that does still occur could be dealt with by some combination of direct observation and a reporting system for complaints, just as it is in real space. If a website operator moderates the site herself and sees a harassing post, she can warn the poster directly and/or ban him if he has posted harassing messages before. If she does not moderate the site herself, or if there is so much activity on the site that monitoring all posts is not possible or practical, the website operator can establish a complaints policy that would enable individuals to alert the owners about harassing posts. The website operator or her designated moderator(s) could then make the assessment that employers do: consider the nature of the allegedly harassing post; whether there have been other complaints about the user in question; any particular features of the “space” that would mitigate for or against the behavior in question. The website operator could then decide whether the appropriate response is to do nothing, resolve the issue informally, issue warnings, delete postings, or ban the user in question. It should actually be easier to institute and enforce a sexual harassment complaints process on websites than in real-space workplaces and educational institutions. This is true for several reasons. First, many websites already have a moderation policy that includes warnings and bans for users who violate the policy. For these websites, all that compliance with Title VII and Title IX would necessitate is an explicit statement regarding sexual harassment in the moderation policy, and heightened attention to allegations of sexual harassing posts. Secondly, it is the nature of website participation that it is recorded, often in written form. In real-space workplace or school harassment, disagreements can arise over what someone actually said or did. It is thus always possible in real-space harassment that innocent people will be accused of sexual harassment. On websites, there will be no dispute as to whether the allegedly harassing behavior took place, as the posts are in written form (and usually date- and time- stamped). Most moderators do not let users delete their own posts, so harassers would also not be able to cover their tracks. There are also lower liberty costs to regulating harassing behavior online. If an innocent person is accused of sexual harassment in a real-space environment, and the employer or educational institution takes punitive action, the results can be devastating. The worst that can happen to an alleged harasser on any given website is that his privileges of participating on that website will be restricted or taken away. This is a far lower liberty cost than those associated with firing an employee or expelling a student. In this sense, regulating sexual harassment online has the benefit

Authors: Franks, Mary Anne.
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Franks 50 
It  is  probable  that  this  in  itself  would  reduce  the  likelihood  of 
harassment,  as  it  has  done  in  real  space,  especially  if  the  penalties  for 
engaging in harassment were made clear (e.g., deletion of posts, banning).  
The  harassment  that  does  still  occur  could  be  dealt  with  by  some 
combination  of  direct  observation  and  a  reporting  system  for  complaints, 
just as it is in real space. If a website operator moderates the site herself and 
sees a harassing post, she can warn the poster directly and/or ban him if he 
has  posted  harassing  messages  before.  If  she  does  not  moderate  the  site 
herself, or if there is so much activity on the site that monitoring all posts is 
not  possible  or  practical,  the  website  operator  can  establish  a  complaints 
policy  that  would  enable  individuals  to  alert  the  owners  about  harassing 
posts.    The  website  operator  or  her  designated  moderator(s)  could  then 
make the assessment that employers do: consider the nature of the allegedly 
harassing post; whether there have been other complaints about the user in 
question;  any  particular  features  of  the  “space”  that  would  mitigate  for  or 
against  the  behavior  in  question.  The  website  operator  could  then  decide 
whether  the  appropriate  response  is  to  do  nothing,  resolve  the  issue 
informally, issue warnings, delete postings, or ban the user in question.     
It  should  actually  be  easier  to  institute  and  enforce  a  sexual 
harassment  complaints  process  on  websites  than  in  real-space  workplaces 
and  educational  institutions.    This  is  true  for  several  reasons.  First,  many 
websites already have a moderation policy that includes warnings and bans 
for  users  who  violate  the  policy.    For  these  websites,  all  that  compliance 
with  Title  VII  and  Title  IX  would  necessitate  is  an  explicit  statement 
regarding  sexual  harassment  in  the  moderation  policy,  and  heightened 
attention to allegations of sexual harassing posts. Secondly, it is the nature 
of website participation  that it is  recorded, often in  written form.   In real-
space  workplace  or  school  harassment,  disagreements  can  arise  over  what 
someone  actually  said  or  did.    It  is  thus  always  possible  in  real-space 
harassment that innocent people will be accused of sexual harassment. On 
websites,  there  will  be  no  dispute  as  to  whether  the  allegedly  harassing 
behavior took place, as the posts are in written form (and usually date- and 
time- stamped).  Most moderators do not let users delete their own posts, so 
harassers would also not be able to cover their tracks.   
There  are  also  lower  liberty  costs  to  regulating  harassing  behavior 
online.    If  an  innocent  person  is  accused  of  sexual  harassment  in  a  real-
space  environment,  and  the  employer  or  educational  institution  takes 
punitive action, the results can be devastating. The worst that can happen to 
an  alleged  harasser  on  any  given  website  is  that  his  privileges  of 
participating on that website will be restricted or taken away.  This is a far 
lower liberty cost than those associated with firing an employee or expelling 
a student.  In this sense, regulating sexual harassment online has the benefit 

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