SXSW 2016
IBM's Lisa Hammitt On Tech Curbing Online Harassment

Moments after taking part in the “Industry Innovation and Social Responsibility” panel as part of SXSW’s Online Harassment Summit on Saturday, IBM’s Vice President of Cloud Marketspace Lisa Hammitt spoke with ogilvydo’s Philip Ellis about a number of issues facing technology companies, parents, and governments in dealing with the growing concern of harassment in the online world. Check out their conversation below:


Philip Ellis: What role or responsibility do you feel technology companies like IBM have in preventing online harassment?

Lisa Hammitt: I just believe that the data is exploding. It’s everywhere now. So with that comes the opportunity for 24/7 engagement, and that’s what you’re starting to see with online forums. And so harassment being an outgrowth of that is probably entirely predictable. Those of us in tech are looking at multiple areas where we can help to curb – let’s just say conversations that aren’t moving in the right direction, or that are in a direction that might be inappropriate.

So certainly there are a number of technologies that we can deploy that can help this problem. What IBM is the best in the world at is cognitive computing. With that comes the ability to have natural language processing that can auto detect and flag and sequester certain materials. We have constraint-based logic where we can enforce codes of conduct. We can look at knowledge, social, and interest graphing where we can put people together, that there’s less of likelihood of a dynamic occurring that a community manager is not happy with. And finally, and probably most importantly, because all of this technology is designed by IBM to help humans to do it better, we can outfit the community managers with tools and the ability filter and alert themselves, so they can enforce the rules of engagement that are keeping with the culture of their communities. As Ogilvy knows, we’ve talked with David Spinks, who runs a 7,000 person-strong community called CMX, and just about every community manager out there is hungry for better tools and practices to keep their community safe and elevate the level of discussion.

PE: You were speaking at your panel just now not only as a technologist, but also as a mother. What do you feel parents can do in terms of educating themselves about this whole new digital world that children are living in?

LH: First, parents need to appreciate that the tools that used to be in place to allow students to go underground are now varied and ubiquitous. And that was not the case when I was in school. So what I’ve seen is a world where between texting, between video sharing, between online forums, conversations and information flow, students can be 24/7. Now, that can be very positive if you’re working on an integrated project, [but] it could take a much more nefarious tone if there’s online bullying and cyberbullying goes on. I’m not happy to report here today that 80% of students report some form of online bullying that goes on. And unlike adults, they tend not to unfriend or block those posts.

What parents need to know is that they are the first responders. They are the ones to know that there are multiple ways these students and teenagers can interact in a 24/7 manner. So awareness is the first thing.

Then, I think once we understand the world we’re living in, I think it’s incumbent upon the technology leaders to help parents know what techniques and tools are available, as well as what best practices you should be looking at for helping to make sure the online discussion becomes one where learning is central.

And so, I’ve been talking to some of the parents here and some of the ideas they’ve been sharing with me are ones I’ve brought to IBM, and IBM has actually responded in a favorable way—as have some of our partners. Where, for example, we could have a means to alert parents in a more proactive way about conversations that are occurring, and the parents then can use it as a governor to determine the length of time perhaps, where they visit, their own decider to monitor. But I think that we need to make sure the parents understand is that they are an integral part in keeping the online conversation healthy.

PE: We’re also seeing a greater involvement from local, state, and federal lawmakers. Barack Obama spoke at SXSW yesterday. What do you think is driving this convergence of technology and government?

LH: I’m heartened that civic leaders are being as proactive as they are, because our laws have not caught up with our technology and so often that is the case. For example, I was mentioning the 24/7 component where teens are concerned—the courts only until recently saw the world being that school administrators did not need to get involved in off-campus activities if it had no bearing in school. But now, what happens when you’re in a world where these students are constantly communicating, and some of what’s going on online is a continuation of what’s going on at school, and some of what’s going on online spurs the dynamic of what’s happening in school?

So I think what the civic leaders are doing, quite wisely right now, is understanding what laws we need to have in place to protect our most vulnerable constituents. Because today we don’t have it all figured out, and the degree to which those laws are extended or modified I think is in question. But it’s fantastic that the dialogue is happening here.

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