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A Twitter Trolliday – And Reporting Abuse on Twitter

Will you join in the #trolliday, a Twitter boycott on 4th August to demand action to protect women users of the site from violent threats?  

The call for a Trolliday came yesterday, after the journalist and feminist activist Caroline Criado-Perez was subjected to a prolonged and vicious attack by Twitter trolls. A petition was created, demanding that Twitter place a prominent Report Abuse button on the site.

Some have suggested that Caroline is partly to blame for the abuse being levelled at her, as she has RTed the messages.  This is such a weird way of looking at the problem. I will admit that I would not have gone on the offensive as she did, because the sheer horror of what she has gone through is staggering, but she is to be applauded for standing up to her abusers. How utterly bizarre to state that because she has spoken against those making rape threats, she then only has herself to blame for further abuse. The abusers are not victims, they are perpetrators.

Prominent journalists such as Caitlin Moran, Suzanne Moore and Helen Lewis stood behind Caroline and suggested that ‘naice people’ should take a Twitter holiday, a #trolliday, to protest at the site’s failure to react swiftly to online abuse against women. Already it is being suggested that this is less of a protest, and more of a submission to the trolls. 

I was uncomfortable with demands by some users, directed at one particular Twitter employee@marksluckie. Mark protected his account after receiving complaints, which he later explained were not actually in his remit as a ‘Manager of Journalism and News’, for which he was criticised. If a person is receiving abusive messages, then he is entitled to protect his account, and the irony of him having to do this does not escape me.

Twitter have reacted by announcing a new reports system. The speed of this announcement and implementation makes me suspect that this was already in the workings. At present it is only available on iOS apps, but will be extended across other Twitter apps. 

This is an interesting development in a week that saw Facebook introduce anti-bullying measures, intended to help children who are being harassed online. 

 

It seems that Social Media platforms are slowly coming around to the fact that they must provide a system by which users can report abusive behaviour. It is important that this is not done as a knee-jerk reaction to a petition or a #trolliday, but as part of a well-thought out and researched policy. We should call on Twitter, Facebook and other Social Media platforms to work with representatives from various organisations, such as those who campaign and inform about bullying, misogynistic / homophobic / transphobic abuse, as well as racist/xenophobic and anti-Semitic abuse.

There are of course concerns by some that a Report Abuse button could be misused by those who intend to cause trouble, or wish to have a particular user banned. And that the ease of setting up a new account would mean that a troll would simply register under a new name, and carry on. These are valid concerns, but the alternative is the status quo, where people are leaving Twitter because they cannot cope with the abuse.

Telling someone to simply ignore the abuse, and block the person is not enough. If a man is vile enough to tweet rape threats to Caroline, what will stop him tweeting similar abuse to other women? 

Perhaps a visit from the local police… which is why I was relieved to see that Twitter have included information about contacting local law enforcement on their support page about reporting abusive tweets.

 

This is how the new Report Abuse screen looks like – be aware that you will have to enter the name of the user so copy and paste it to ensure you have the right spelling. (Click on the first image to launch slideshow).

 

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The next step is one that is up for debate – what happens when a person is reported to the police. There have been Twitter trials, which some have opposed in the name of ‘free speech’. This is where I part company with libertarians. There is no ‘free speech’ when it comes to abusing another person. If I walk up to a man in the street and shout racist abuse at him, I would (rightly) be liable to prosecution. Why should shouting racist (or other illegal) abuse at someone online be any different?  

Sian wrote about reporting the man who abused her, and I do firmly believe that if the people tweeting such vile comments knew that they could well be found and prosecuted, they would think twice about what they tweet. Whether that abuse is based on gender, sexual orientation, race or religion, it should not be tolerated, and it should not simply be blocked. .

While I absolutely support Caroline, and any person who is being abused online, I don’t think that a report button alone is enough,  and will not be joining in the #trolliday.

I feel that the demands are too wishy-washy and don’t go far enough in addressing the issue at hand – the lawless free-for-all internet in which people feel free to tweet abuse – not only violent threats against women, but against many other minority groups. In many countries, there are laws against making threats, and not enough people are aware of them, or think that they are an appropriate response to online comments.

We need a calm and respectful discussion about preventing abuse, and how it should be dealt with. We need to take this seriously and not just tell women who have been threatened with rape that they should just block the abuser. We need legal clarity, so that those who are victims of such abuse know that they can and should report it to the police.  We need Social Media sites to work with law enforcement, on an international and on a local level, so that the victim has access to a police officer who understands the situation and can offer appropriate advice. 

We need to stop accepting that trolls are a part of internet life, and fight back against them.