Unless you’ve been living under a rock or are not a cool kid on the Internet, you saw the latest, potentially greatest, online meme: "Damn, Daniel."
Damn Daniel pic.twitter.com/Va10hmpePO— ☼ J O S H ☼ (@Josholzz) February 16, 2016
It’s such a simple, pure expression of friendship and admiration, mostly over white Vans. The duo involved in the video went so far as to donate their lifetime supply of Van’s to a children’s hospital. There isn’t any possible way that could be corrupted, right?
Oh wait, except for Twitter accounts being hacked, homophobic jokes, and getting swatted – having someone call in a fake crime to your residence, leading to armed police arriving and expecting a dangerous hostage situation or something similar.
Online harassment has real consequences, but laws against it are sort of hit or miss so protection against it is sparse. But one UK insurance company is offering "troll insurance" – letting you put your life back together if you’ve been attacked online. Is it a good idea, and should more insurers be offering this service?
What does troll insurance cover?
Chubb, known for their homeowners insurance, is the first insurer to provide troll insurance. So far it’s only available to clients in the UK, but it could be an important first step to handling modern abuse.
But you can’t really have insurance over people just being mean to you, right? Chubb defines trolling as "three or more acts by the same person or group to harass, threaten or intimidate a customer." So it needs to be a repeated, deliberate attack on a person – which, in today’s world, is more common than you’d think.
If you need time off to get out of the harsh spotlight for a little while, your troll insurance will cover that. Temporary relocation costs, and the cost of lost income if you have to take time off of work (or even if you get fired), are also covered. That can help minimize the cost of a much-needed escape.
Chubb’s troll insurance will also cover the more psychological harm of online abuse. Counselling can go a long way in helping a victim recover from abuse, and you can use your troll insurance to get the help you need. You can even use it to hire a PR firm if you need to do some public damage control and defend yourself against any egregious claims.
Finally, your insurance would cover "cyber security professionals to trace anonymous abuse and help secure prosecution." That’s an interesting one because online abuse can be notoriously hard to track down in real life; sure, the jerks who post in the YouTube comments section probably aren’t thinking about masking their IP addresses or using a VPN so they’re harder to spot, but it can still be a resource-intensive task to find abusers.
While troll insurance would presumably cover any policyholder that paid for it, Chubb noted that it was targeted toward teens – or, more specifically, their parents who want to protect them. One in five kids suffers from cyberbullying, and there could be many more unreported cases, so it seems that there’s certainly a market out there for it. But will it help in any way that the law already doesn’t?
Do we need troll insurance?
There are three ways that we can protect people from online trolling.
The first is for people to just stop trolling other people. This is obvious: if people aren’t harassing other people online, then there isn’t any need for insurance or laws. This is also a fantasy scenario that will certainly not come into play, which means we’re down to legal recourse or people paying for their own protection.
A lot of laws meant to deal with issues on the Internet, from copyright to sales tax, are still in flux, and harassment protection is no different. Swatting (in cases where authorities have been able to track down who is responsible) has been dealt with using various general federal laws:
"Conspiracy to retaliate against a witness, victim or informant".
"Conspiracy to commit access device fraud and unauthorized access of a protected computer".
An accomplice may be found guilty of "conspiring to obstruct justice".
California is the only place in the US that has laws specifically on the books for handling swatting cases.
Other forms of online abuse are more well-protected against. Harassment, cyberstalking, and identity theft all have different state and/or federal laws against them.
Cyberbullying, though, is different. Every state in America has laws against bullying, but fewer than half of those include provisions specifically for cyberbullying.
Troll insurance will help in the instances where legal action is taken to cover prosecution, but that’s reactive and doesn’t particularly undo the damage of missing school or work (not to mention the psychological costs).
That’s why troll insurance still be important even in cases where there isn’t any legal recourse. The peace of mind you can get from counselling and public relations, while helping to pay for these services and others like income replacement and relocation, will go a long way in helping victims recover from their abuse.
So it’s a good idea, but will insurers other than Chubb start offering it?
Probably. Eventually. We’ve seen insurers come around on drone insurance, rideshare insurance, and more in recent years. Insurers haven’t been particularly proactive about these things, waiting until they were well into the public sphere before offering protection, and it seems like troll insurance could be in the same boat.
On the bright side, troll insurance isn’t the only change Chubb has made, acting on a survey to offer other services (like covering tuition expenses if a student drops out of school because of an injury or family death), so hopefully insurers will begin to respond more quickly to what their customers want. And now that they’ve seen the door that Chubb has opened the door, maybe we’ll start seeing troll insurance stateside.