We will look back at cyber-harassment as a disgrace – if we act now

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Attitudes towards online abuse have undergone a sea change over the last decade. In the past, cyber-harassment – often a perfect storm of threats, impersonations, defamation, and privacy invasions directed at an individual – was routinely dismissed as “no big deal”.

So it was for one Yale law student. Starting in 2007, on an online discussion board, a cyber-mob falsely accused her of having herpes and sleeping with her dean. Anonymous posters described how they would rape her; they chronicled her daily whereabouts and prior jobs. Yet law enforcement told the student to ignore the attacks because “boys will be boys”. Officers advised her to “clean up” her cyber-reputation, as if she could control what appeared about her. Trivialising online abuse and blaming victims was the norm.

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