PONAR: Design

Let's review the steps to take if one is the subject of online harassment.  How to Respond to Online Harassment is provided by Working to Halt Online Abuse (WHOA) an organization mentioned in the previous section. There are number of helpful steps; we'd just like to review how these would be followed with or without a lawyer– as well as through PONAR.

People seek lawyers in fighting online abuse for the following reasons:

  • A lawyer acts as a proxy so the complainant doesn't have to reveal their contact information.
  • A lawyer has experience in drafting the appropriate type of claims (Cease & Desist letters).
  • A lawyer can archive all of the communications and evidence.

There are reasons not to use an attorney:

  • Sending an email is quicker and cheaper.
  • Posting a response to the public forum is one way to show strength and defiance towards one's accusers.
  • An email can be less threatening than a C&D letter.

So, there's a conundrum here. The relatively high cost of legal engagement may dissuade complainants from seeking that route. On the other hand, direct communications may be inadequate to get the publisher's attention, and it may be unsafe by exposing the aggrieved party's contact information. What we propose is a way to automate part of the lawyer in acting as a proxy, an advisor, and a safety deposit. All of these can be served through the PONAR protocol.

Here's our basic design goals for the protocol:

  1. The protocol can serve as a proxy for any party, including the publisher. The complainant can be publicly shielded; the aggravator, if anoymous, can communicate via proxy. (The complainants typically make their identity known to the publisher).
  2. The protocol can determine, based on jurisdictions, whether and which law enforcement agency can be engaged.
  3. The protocol can be designed to handle the full exchange of communications.
  4. The protocol can be used to flag potential evidence for permanent archiving.
  5. The protocol can make certain information public (such as the history of complaints against a particular publisher).
  6. The protocol should include a filing fee schedule for the plaintiff, as a reasonable economic deterrent against frivolous complaints and/or spam, and as a way to fund the system's upkeep. A publisher or aggravator may choose to pay the fee at the end of the process as an act of goodwill.

In the next section, we'll show a form to illustrate what the complainant would file.