Suddenly, what happens online matters

Yesterday, the Globe and Mail had a very good editorial about online death threats. In short, the piece argues that death threats made online matter and shouldn’t be treated as somehow “inferior” to those that happen in “real life.”

Death threats made on the Internet can be as serious as death threats made in person or by other forms of communication; some other threats less so. Police, prosecutors and judges need to assess the gravity of the threats and apply their common sense, from the decision to prosecute through to sentencing. There is no need to amend the Criminal Code in order to treat Internet threats as if they were less serious, as some lawyers have suggested.

Of course, my hope is that this treatment of online behaviour isn’t selective. I mean, if online threats should be considered seriously, shouldn’t other forms of online behaviour – like political behaviour – also be treated seriously?

I remember just two years ago, during the initially online prorogation protests many journalists and pundits deemed them as silly and unimportant. Back then the online editor of the Globe was kind enough to publish two pieces of mine (here and here) that attempted to counter this narrative. But this ran against the grain. Even at the Globe there were pundits who thought that treating online protests and petitions seriously was, well, silly. It was fascinating to see how stories about a 200,000+ plus facebook group focused less on how disgruntled many Canadians were than on how online politics didn’t matter.

Of course that was before the Arab spring when all of a sudden it became vogue to write about how online politicsdidmatter. It would be fascinating to see how the prorogation protests might have played out in the media if they’d occurred after Egypt.

For many of us, we’ve known for a long time that what happens online matters. Its why we care so much about the virtual space and demand it be taken seriously.

It is great to see the Globe’s editorial board feel the same way. Frankly we’d love to see more of it since the online world is very much part of our world, and the threats to it as a space where citizens and consumers can be in free are very real as well.

Threats online matter, and so does commerce, politics, free speech, and the infinite other activities that humans engage in, and will engage in online. Let’s treat it that way.

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