Sorting out the Twits on Twitter
Twitter is currently at a pivotal point in its development in the UK. Having celebrated its seventh birthday in March, it now has 10 million users in the country and worldwide 400 million tweets are sent every day.
It is worth looking at these figures in the context of the current publicity around the hateful trolling of female celebrities on the microblogging network. Over 1 in 5 of the UK adult population is on Twitter and, as Baroness Lane-Fox has pointed out, the danger is that the genuine outrage about misogynistic threats on social networking will drown out the issues of violence against women in the real world.
Clearly there is a wider issue about how people, particularly men, feel they can treat others. Social media provides an anonymous and easy way to broadcast their ‘thoughts’, as they are able to hide behind their keyboards rather than having the guts to talk directly to people.
The danger is that the current abuse will drive right-minded people away from Twitter and it will lose some of its variety and ability to enable millions of conversations. A second worry is that in the run up to the election, the government will take action that, while it cracks down on trolls, curtails genuine freedom of speech.
So what can be done? While the 24 hour boycott was well-intentioned it risks the trolls feeling they’ve won. In my opinion what is needed is, unfortunately, increased proactive policing of the network. Twitter’s decision to add a report abuse button to every tweet is a step in the right direction but at the moment trolls don’t see the consequences of their actions. In the same way that the Lord McAlpine Twitter libel case brought home to people that social media is not above the law, a similar high profile trial of trolls is needed to demonstrate that abuse, threats and harassment is as unacceptable online as off.
Currently the CPS guidelines on prosecuting offensive tweets require either a credible threat of violence, stalking/harassment of specific individuals or breach of a court order. ‘Grossly offensive, indecent, offensive or false’ communications have to pass a high threshold of evidence and the guidelines state that ‘in many cases a prosecution is unlikely to be in the public interest.’ Therefore while prosecutions would happen for some of the most high profile trolling cases, the vast majority will slip through the net. The police have said they don’t have the resources to monitor every offensive communication. This puts the ball back into Twitter’s court and it is time it began suspending accounts more quickly and making it more difficult to reactivate them. Naming and shaming of trolls is another option – witness the abject apology given to Mary Beard after someone threatened to tell the troll’s mother about his behaviour.
Twitter, like other social networks, has crossed the chasm into mainstream life. What is needed is fast action to demonstrate that actions online have the same consequences as they would have offline, with fast prosecution of offenders and, before that, suspension of accounts. While this may not cure misogyny and violence against women in the real world, it will send out a strong message that it will not be tolerated online.
- Twitter threats highlight blight of online trolls (kansascity.com)
- Don’t Feed the Trolls: New Anti-Abuse Button Introduced On Twitter (thesterlingroad.com)
- Mary Beard silences offensive Twitter troll (guardian.co.uk)
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About meI'm Chris Measures and I've spent the last 18 years creating and implementing PR and marketing campaigns for technology companies. I've worked with everyone from large quoted companies to fast growth start-ups, giving me unrivalled experience and ideas. I'm now director of Measures Consulting, an agency that uses this expertise to deliver PR and marketing success for technology businesses.
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