Sexual harassment and the sharing economy: the dark side of working for strangers

And while corporate scandals continue to make headlines – most recently involving a Google engineer’s memo criticizing diversity initiatives – there has been minimal scrutiny of the harassment, abuse and discrimination the tech products have enabled by connecting strangers through the internet. That includes sexual assaults of Uber drivers and food deliverers, physical attacks and racist abuse by Airbnb hosts, and violent threats on Twitter, Facebook and dating apps.

In the same way that female engineers and startup founders struggle to report harassment for fear of retaliation or lost funding, gig economy workers are in precarious positions when they are victimized, since they aren’t classified as employees.

Though sexual harassment is not a new problem, online platforms have enabled methods of abuse that were not possible before, in some cases helping turn people into abusers.

Franks, the law professor, said sites like Facebook and Twitter attracted “opportunistic harassers”, by rewarding impulsive behavior and making it easy for them to inflict serious damage on victims with just a few clicks.

The notion that platforms are not responsible or liable for the actions of their users, including criminal behavior, extends across Silicon Valley.

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