The United Nations is truly an amazing organization. Dictators and authoritarians from around the world can work together to solve their common problems, like how to keep their own citizens under control. A solution to this serious problem has been found, Cyberviolence against women is the new justification for the police state. Terrorism just isn’t cutting it anymore. People, in Western countries in particular, are growing more and more critical of the pervasive surveillance state and continue to resist authoritarian measures to police speech, even with the constant media bombardment about the dangers of terrorism.

A recent UN paper on cyberviolence provides the impetus for speech policing and mass surveillance under the guise of protecting women. The paper was taken down, after taking heavy criticism, but a revised paper is on the way. The main criticism directed at the paper was its horrible citations, which included broken URL links and even some blank lines. Of the sources that actually did exist, one of them was an insane rant about video games brainwashing children into murderers, which as a bonus also contains a conspiracy theory denying the declining rate of violent crime in Western countries.

The media, for the most part, ate this report up when it came out. It was up to private individuals to the job that journalists would not do and check the content of the paper and the sources it was based on. However, once the major issues with the report started getting spread on social media, to the point where they could no longer be ignored, the media, for the most part, did backtrack on the issue. We started getting articles acknowledging that there were issues with the report, while still promoting the idea that cyberviolence was a serious issue for women to be concerned about, and the shoddy sourcing as well as the outrageous claims about video games and pornography, which were contained in the report, would damage the cause.

The actual activities considered to be cyberviolence are quite broad and include things like hacking and impersonation, which are already illegal and taken pretty seriously by authorities. But also included is a bullet point labeled harassment/spamming, which is sort of a catchall to include anything that makes a privileged person feel bad. When speaking at the UN, Anita Sarkeesian stated that harassment isn’t just death threats against her but also people calling her a liar or saying “you suck” every day. The obvious solution to that would be to stop telling lies, but she decided to go with the more elaborate solution of pushing for authoritarian speech policing.

The overly broad definition of cyberviolence is a tactic used by the media for quite a while when covering Sarkeesian. A few people have sent her death threats, while a much larger group has been making legitimate criticism of her video series, and the media portrays it as one indivisible mob, with no distinction between threats and criticism. Again, let’s be absolutely clear, most of the things mentioned in the report are already illegal, and they are only mentioned to make cyberviolence sound like a serious threat. The push for stronger laws against cyberviolence is targeted squarely at criticism and mean words.

In addition to stronger laws against critical speech, the report also calls on governments to use their regulatory power to “ensure that only those Telecoms and search engines are allowed to connect with the public that supervise content and its dissemination.” Regarding search engines, it seems to be calling for an expansion of the principle established in Europe, the so-called right to be forgotten, except it would seemingly apply to anything that makes a person feel bad, so that they can have it removed from search results.

Including Telecoms in that statement is even more disturbing. Although the statement is a bit vague, it seems to be calling for telecommunications companies to monitor every single person’s Internet activity all the time to make sure that they aren’t committing acts of cyberviolence. In other words, mass surveillance. Since law enforcement absolutely will not have the resources to enforce speech laws this draconian, they need to offload most of the work to the private sector.

The report also raises the specter of Anonymity, and the supposedly great benefit Anonymity provides to dangerous criminals. While some criminals do use anonymity to commit crimes, law enforcement actually has ways of dealing with it. Hackers who were certain their identity were secret have been caught and prosecuted. It is a constant battle, new technologies and tactics are being developed all the time to protect anonymity, and some criminals may get away with their crime, but that’s true of crimes committed offline as well. We don’t live in a utopia where every criminal is convicted, but in a general sense, anonymity does not protect criminals significantly, because law enforcement can often track down their real identity. The main push against anonymity comes from those in power, in order to chill dissenting speech that would threaten their power, as has happened in China and other authoritarian regimes.

Despite all my commentary about the UN report, likely not much will come of it directly. The UN is notorious for never getting anything done. More likely the threat comes at a national level or for some countries’ subnational level. This report does provide an excuse that governments can appeal to in order to justify their own authoritarian policies. Western countries have already been subjected to mass surveillance, and some have flirted with the idea of speech policing. Many are now primed to make the jump to outright police state. Meanwhile, regimes which have already instituted authoritarian measures can now appeal to cyberviolence to justify their existing policies in order to negate criticism from the West.

While I have no doubt malicious people are pushing for this cyberviolence report to justify authoritarian policies, there do seem to be people supporting it who genuinely want to do good. They really do believe that speech policing can be used to protect oppressed groups. This is a fundamentally stupid idea, because only people with tremendous power will be writing the laws and deciding how they are executed. People who are genuinely oppressed have the most to fear from speech policing. Wouldn’t it be a shame if the police decided to start arresting social justice activists, because some of them have said some incredibly nasty things online? Of course SJWs will argue that, that’s now how speech laws are supposed to work. They’re supposed to be used against critics of the online social justice movement, not to be used against the movement itself.

Welcome to reality; the way things are supposed to be isn’t always how they actually turn out. While I mean no offense to any police officer that actually tries to keep their community safe, we’ve seen numerous examples of officers acting as petty tyrants and abusing any power they have. If you think that they aren’t eventually  going to abuse the hell out of draconian speech laws to vindictively attack activist groups, get ready to be disappointed. Hopefully everyone who is actually concerned about oppression will eventually realize that speech policing is not going to help anyone except those with power.

Max Michael

Senior Writer

I’m a technology reporter located near the Innovation District of Kitchener-Waterloo, Ontario.