As we all spend our days yelling at one another online, it’s easy to despair and wonder: Is there any way to fix our toxic internet?
Micah Loewinger, a producer for WNYC’s “On the Media,” was pondering this question when he met Lindsay Blackwell, a Ph.D. student at the University of Michigan who studies online harassment. Ms. Blackwell, also a researcher at Facebook, had been toying with the idea of applying the principles of the restorative justice movement to online content moderation (you can listen to their episode here).
Restorative justice is an alternative form of criminal justice that focuses on mediation. Often, an offender will meet with the victim and the broader community with a chance to make amends. The confrontation, advocates of the technique argue, helps the offender come to terms with the crime while giving the victim a chance to be heard. If the relationship is repaired and the harm to the victim reduced, the offender is allowed to re-enter the community. Studies, including one by the Department of Justice, suggest the approach can be an effective way to decrease repeat offenses and works for perpetrators and victims.