WMC Speech Project

10 Must-Read Books About Online Harassment and Free Speech


Interested in what experts think online harassment, as a socio-technical phenomenon, is all about? We've compiled a list of some of the best books, covering free speech, legal issues, social realities and more, about the topic.

318gqP4Gz1L._SX332_BO1,204,203,200_Hate Crimes in Cyberspace by Danielle Citron

Professor and legal expert Danielle Keats Citron’s book makes a compelling case for understanding cyber-harassment as violations of civil rights law. She provides critical insights into history and jurisprudence to explain how social, political and legal norms must employed more productively and fairly to create more civil, egalitarian online cultures.

4164u2F7-OL._AC_UL160_SR105,160_Viral Hate: Containing Its Spread on the Internet by Abraham H. Foxman and Christopher Wolf

Foxman and Wolf write about a wide spectrum of manifestations of hatred online, ranging from racist attacks and Holocaust denial to homophobic bullying and abortion clinic terrorism.  Wolf, an Internet privacy expert and Foxman is the director of the Anti-Defamation League, discuss the global implications of US free speech norms, the panoply of often international laws and the complexity of protecting users from abuse and hatred while maintaining a commitment to freedom of expression.

51UIgOqRAOL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_The Internet of Garbage by Sarah Jeong

Sarah Jeong examines online harassment from both a legal and cultural perspective, using multiple examples to explain current legal and corporate policies and their limitations. The Internet of Garbage explores the impact of attempts to address common harassment tactics on free speech, personal expression and public engagement.

51guQe9gHXL._AA160_Gender Trolling: How Misogyny Went Viral by Karla Mantilla

Mantilla provides a thoughtful and thorough framework for understanding gender specific harassment and its relationship to broader "real life" gender-based abuses of women.  She ties online threats and sexual harassment to intimate partner abuse, street harassment, workplace sexual harassment and rape and recommends structural, legal and corporate approaches to increasing women’s safety and free speech online.

41xcA9y7fVL._AA160_CyberSexism: Gender and Power on the Internet by Laurie Penny

Penny cuts to the quick of the issue of online harassment and inequality, explaining, “The Internet was supposed to be for everyone... Millions found their voices in this brave new online world; it gave unheard masses the space to speak to each other without limits, across borders, both physical and social. It was supposed to liberate us from gender. But as more and more of our daily lives migrated on line, it seemed it did matter if you were a boy or a girl.'  Penny explains how a tradition of silencing women operates in the new public commons of the Internet and argues for a deeper understanding of what real freedom of speech looks like.

510Xi4QtYHL._AC_UL480_SR324,480_This Is Why We Can't Have Nice Things: Mapping the Relationship between Online Trolling and Mainstream Culture by Whitney Phillips

Refuting the belief that online is deviant or new behavior, Phillips effectively makes the case for understanding online abuse as the logical extension of pre-existing corporate marketing, political posturing, cultural norms, and structural inequality.
415yegrpF7L._AC_UL480_SR324,480_Reading The Comments: Likers, Haters, and Manipulators at the Bottom of the Web by Joseph Reagle

Arguing against the commonly advised, “Don’t read the comments,” Reagle writes about what we can and should learn from them instead.  He illustrates the ways in which commenting, now banal and increasingly reviled, is a way of interacting and communicating that should also be understood as useful and informative.  He links today’s online comment to analog antecedents in rating systems such as Michelin stars and investigates the behavior and culture of hostility and hatred commonly referred to as “trolling.”

4168r-jA4iL._SX326_BO1,204,203,200_The People’s Platform: Taking Back Power and Culture in the Digital Age by Astra Taylor

Taylor’s thesis gives lie to the belief that the Internet has ushered in an era of radical openness and equality.  She persuasively argues that the Web’s structure and business models have perpetuated traditional media inequities.  Even worse, unlike the old corporate hierarchies, the new ones place very little value on creating culturally valuable content and institutions, or paying people for doing the same. The tech world’s “We just run a platform,” Taylor suggests, enables elites to publically erase their influence, motivations and enduring power. Arguing for a “sustainable culture,” she envisions an Internet with an alternative business model, where users are understood not as paid or unpaid digital laborers, but as citizens.

51v5CHX9KVL._AC_UL160_SR103,160_Targeted and Trolled: The Reality of Being a Woman Online by Rossalyn Warren

Using stories drawn from women’s every day online experiences, Warren explores the impact of online sexism on women writers, journalist and activists. Warren, a writer with Buzzfeed, has herself been the target of online misogyny and relates her own experiences to those of women around the world.

51Dmuh8DD5L._SX330_BO1,204,203,200_Civility in the Digital Age: How Companies and People Can Triumph over Haters, Trolls, Bullies and Other Jerks by Andrea Weckerle

Weckerle, the founder of Civilnation, has written a 30-Day Action Plan for anyone wanting to manage their Internet content.  She offers pragmatic strategic guidelines and tactical tools for understanding online incivility, hostility, aggression and safety, including how to write user contacts, constructively build communities around social understanding and agreement and create policies that work to decrease harm.

41koXfP9yjL._AA320_QL65_Truth, Autonomy, and Speech: Feminist Theory and the First Amendment (Critical America) by Susan Williams

Although Williams' book is not about harassment or the Internet, her in-depth and original interpretation of free speech has remarkable applicability to contemporary debates regarding free speech and its corporate regulation. Williams presents a defense of the First Amendment that includes an understanding of both truth and autonomy, the foundations of free speech, as relational, with profound implications for how products might be conceived, built and regulated in an era of hyper-connectivity. She incorporates philosophy, law and anthropology to develop both a robust political theory and a creative basis for a more egalitarian and pragmatic understanding of free speech.

More articles by Category: Education, Online harassment
More articles by Tag: Activism and advocacy, Cross-platform harassment, Discrimination, Internet policy, Non-consensual pornography



Soraya Chemaly
Director, WMC Speech Project, Activist, Writer
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