Genius, the startup that aims to annotate the web, has added a feature that makes it easier for users to report abuse, in response to critics who claimed that the platform enabled online harassment. The company had come under fire for its News Genius tool, which allows users to add comments to any news story or blog post regardless of the author's consent. Critics charged that the feature made it easy for commenters to harass or intimidate authors, prompting Congresswoman Katherine Clark (D-MA) to write a letter to Genius asking whether the site would implement "a robust reporting and remediation process."
Genius responded hours later with a letter of its own, saying it appreciated Clark's concerns but emphasizing that the platform "does not enable abuse. This is a false narrative that has taken hold on Twitter and other outlets." The letter noted that volunteers already moderate abuse and that a Genius staff member reads every comment that is added, though the new reporting function will now allow any user to flag abusive comments "by clicking a single button on any annotation."
"we take issues of abuse and harassment seriously."
"Our goal is to use annotation to enhance the public discourse — we can only achieve this by building an inclusive community, which is why we take issues of abuse and harassment seriously," the company said.
Clark has been an outspoken advocate for victims of online harassment, calling on the FBI to crack down on the Gamergate movement last year and announcing a cybercrime enforcement training bill at SXSW this month. She's been targeted online as well. After calling for tougher penalties for "swatting" earlier this year, Clark's home was swatted, meaning that someone called the police to her house as a hoax.
"The vast majority of developers are well-intentioned and are innovating in ways that are beneficial to online communication and our economy; however, it often does not occur to them how their great idea could be used by someone wishing to do harm," Clark's office said in a statement to Recode following Genius' response. "By raising awareness about online abuse, I’m hopeful that more developers and corporations will take the time to think about how their products might enable abusive behavior so it can be prevented or mitigated."