Nation

‘Genius’ responds to online abuse concerns

WASHINGTON — Genius, an online service that enables annotations on Web pages, announced it had installed a new “report abuse” feature after a US representative from Massachusetts publicly criticized the platform for lack of online harassment protections.

On Tuesday, US Representative Katherine Clark, a Melrose Democrat, published a letter to Genius leadership that chided the Internet company for allowing user-generated content on other websites without permission.

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Genius users can add their own comments to other Web pages by either installing a plugin or adding “genius.it/” in front of a URL. The platform began in 2009 as annotation tool for lyrics, Rap Genius, and it expanded in 2014 to operate on most websites.

But such an online tool can be easily misused, Clark argued in her letter. She called on Genius to list steps the company is taking to reduce Internet harassment.

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“Genius appears to have opted in websites without their express consent and does not appear to have a readily accessible opt-out,” she wrote. “In addition, there appears to be no reporting function for abusive commentary.”

Genius cofounder and CEO Tom Lehman soon after replied the platform had installed a “report abuse” button for all annotations. He also disputed Clark’s statement that the online tool enabled abuse.

“This is a false narrative that has taken hold on Twitter and other outlets,” Lehman wrote. “We have a strict policy against abuse that our community has been enforcing for years — our response to abusive content is to delete the content and suspend the user account.”

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With the hour, Clark tweeted she was “grateful” for the internet company’s quick reply.

Clark has championed curbing online harassment — especially toward women. Earlier this year, police surrounded her house on weekend evening because they had received a false report of an active shooter there — a practice known in some online communities as “swatting.” Clark is a sponsor of the Interstate Swatting Hoax Act, which would make false calls to law enforcement a federal crime.

Before Geinus applied the report abuse button feature, users had to tag “@genius-moderation” to report abusive annotations. Lehman said Genius staffers also read every annotation created.

Clark did not immediately respond to request for comment via a message left with her office, and a Genius spokeswoman deferred to Lehman’s statement.

“Like every platform that enables commentary, [Genius] has the potential to be misused,” Lehman wrote. “However, we want to be clear that Genius does not enable abuse.”

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