PONAR: Protocol for Online Abuse Reporting

This series proposes the establishment of a universal protocol for reporting online abuse. The intention of the protocol is to handle the entire lifecycle, from the initial complaint to resolution; it should specify a standard data structure which would allow for outside reporting.

Consider: it seems obvious today that a telephone system should have a standard dialing pattern for reaching emergency services. The first general deployment was in England in 1937 with "999" as the emergency code. It took another thirty years for the United States to begin to deploy 911 service.

It would be audacious to describe this project as a "911" for the web: Internet users are generally not in immediate physical danger. Furthermore, this system does not suppose a central authority for doing anything more than serving as the system of record; it would be for private parties to do the investigation and remediation.

That said, when a party finds their name or reputation being abused online, they should expect a standard series of buttons for recourse, just like 911. 

Consider the classifieds-community website famed for its attention to customer service, Craigslist. Here are the "action buttons" one finds on every Craigslist post:

The action buttons on blogging communities have evolved quite differently. They could be called viecons, as each icon is vying for the readers attention to use its service for bookmarking/sharing/ranking. Here, for example, is the array of viecons from a post on the SmartMobs blog— and it is hard to imagine the average user trying to discern what the purpose of each is.

Common bulletin board icons represent use glorified emoticons, but it's not clear whether the "mad" or "sad" icons have any follow-up effect:

With Civilities ViewPoints, we at least have a placeholder for the proper button: the "boot" at the far right (next to the "off-topic" icon):


Of course, this all depends on the good faith of a web publisher to include such icons. The ultimate goal of PONAR is to get it into the browser toolbar. This may be accomplished through the browser makers or by common toolbar plug-ins (such as Google's below). Here Google invites us merely to help them rank the page using some familiar emoticons:

Of course, anybody can create an icon in a toolbar which brings up a form. The challenge is building a complete system behind that will be trusted by every single Internet user. Furthermore, to work most effectively, it would have to be able to forward the notice of a complaint to the publisher of every doman and subdomain. This is a potentially complex project to do right, needing the coordination of multiple Internet players. This series explains the justification, and the components, underlying such a system.

In this day and age of "Web 2.0," aggrieved parties still need to navigate tools like WHOIS, which sometimes, but not always, yields a hint as to the identity of the article's publisher; they also might need to figure out how to muster enough social pressure to bring about a remedy if one is needed. That's like telling users they need to open up the phone book to find out how to dial 911. We can do better than that.