Cyber-Harassment Expert Wins MacArthur Genius Grant
Lawyer, law professor, and civil rights advocate Danielle Keats Citron has been awarded a MacArthur grant for her efforts to address the scourge of cyber-harassment.
Citron, a professor at Boston University Law School, is one of 26 individuals this year to receive a so-called genius grant from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. Citron was awarded $625,000 to support her ongoing mission to study and write about online abuse and invasions of sexual privacy, the harm that they inflict, and how law and society should respond to them.
Through her work, Citron has found that cyber-harassment can have a devastating and long-lasting effect on victims, making it difficult for them to go about their daily lives.
“Cyber-harassment is the targeting of specific individuals with a course of conduct that causes severe emotional distress and often the fear of physical harm, and it impacts them in a way that takes away what we consider crucial ability to make the most out of their lives in the 21st century; to get employment, keep a job, engage with other people, and go to school free from the fear of online abuse,” said Citron.
She continued: “We wouldn’t accept people walking down the street and being screeched at and threatened and humiliated and hurt, and we shouldn’t find it an acceptable part of online life.”
Citron has been studying and writing about online abuse for 15 years. During that period, she has worked with tech companies to update safety and privacy policies. She has also advised US legislators and state attorneys general on how to combat the most extreme forms of cyber-abuse, including cyber-stalking and revenge porn—the posting of intimate photos or videos without consent.
The situation is improving, with the number of states to pass cyber-stalking laws rising from 4 in 2009 to 46 today.
Currently, Citron is focused on studying and writing about deep fake technology, which is machine learning technology that lets you manipulate or fabricate audio and video to show people doing and saying things that they’ve never done or said.
She said: “The technology is advancing so rapidly that soon—within months—technologists expect that the state of the art will become so sophisticated that it will become impossible to distinguish fakery from what’s real. The impact that it has is not just on individuals; it has an impact on the truth and more broadly on our trust in democratic institutions.”