Twitter, Trolls and Online Abuse – Is Ignoring the Best Tactic?


Dealing with trolls and abuse on Twitter is a recurring theme. Not a week goes by when there is not a new case being discussed. Theories on how to deal with online hate abound and are hotly debated.

The teenager who sent abusive tweets to Tom Daley has been arrested. Exactly what they will charge him for is at present unclear. There is plenty of evidence on the troll’s timeline to charge him for other abuses. I read several racist and homophobic tweets last night.

According to the Twitter rules, ‘Violence and Threats: You may not publish or post direct, specific threats of violence against others’ – Rileyy’s initial tweets contained no threats of violence towards Daley. They came later when he was on the receiving end of abusive tweets from Daley supporters.

Not that I am defending the young man, but questions do need to be raised – Was he provoked into posting more abuse by the comments he received from Daley’s supporters, and should Twitter have stepped in earlier?

Now that the police have stepped in, Twitter is off the hook. Should they be?


Twitter relies on individuals self-policing the website by blocking abusive posters but unless the abuse contains a specific threat, they are not breaking Twitter rules so presumably would not be banned. Unless of course, the abuse is against a celebrity or sportsman and other Twitter users start a campaign (otherwise known as bandwagon jumping or Twitchfork etc).

When I stepped out of my civilised Twitter world and into the bile-filled timeline of Rileyy and his followers, it was a bit of a shock. I am used to robust debate – I am a Mumsnetter fgs – but this was a whole new level. We all assume that Twitter is full of erudite and intelligent people debating and having a laugh, but that is simply a reflection of the people we follow. There is a whole other Twitterverse out there and it is pretty scary.

Kirstie Allsop was abused by two young women this week, although they did apologise once they realised that they had overstepped the line.



When I looked at their timeline, I was slightly amused at their outrage at the abuse that Daley had received. Could they not see that their comments towards Kirstie were just as bad?



As the consequences for Rileyy have become clearer, they realised that they’d had a lucky escape



I contacted Pheeb to ask her how she feels about internet trolls and abuse. I was interested to know if she realised that it would cause hurt and upset to Kirstie when she tweeted abuse at her, and if she had any idea what would follow.

” when she named me I was a bit in shock at first… Lets put it this way, I was more shocked because I didn’t say the worst. mentions were flooding in abusing me, I panicked because Kirstie said she was going to take action. Luckily by a split I deleted every trace.

The ‘abuse’ I gave kirstie was no where near the abuse tom daley received!! If you were actually there you would understand it was Another girl sending death threats I merely told kirstie to squat on a christmas tree… I joked about kirstie squating on a xmas tree, this riley joked about an olympic diver’s dead dad: big difference.

Basically my twitter behaviour has changed. I will not be sending any comments to anybody famous again!”


Should Twitter step in and delete tweets or suspend users? Any kind of moderation of a site with 140 million users and 340 million tweets a day is a mammoth job. One of the great things about Twitter is that you can call a wanker a wanker without being deleted (although you may be blocked by the user) but this freedom comes with a price.

What are the legal implications for Twitter? Should Twitter delete tweets or suspend users tweeting illegal content?


Hate crimes are any crimes that are targeted at a person because of hostility or prejudice towards that person’s:

  • disability
  • race or ethnicity
  • religion or belief
  • sexual orientation
  • transgender identity

This can be committed against a person or property.

A victim does not have to be a member of the group at which the hostility is targeted. In fact, anyone could be a victim of a hate crime.


Are you or someone you know…

  • being called names?
  • being pushed, hassled or threatened?
  • being beaten up, spat at or kicked?
  • having your things taken or damaged?
  • being made fun of or called names by anyone?

If the answer is Yes, that is bullying. This includes any name-calling or threats received via text message, emails or social networking sites like Facebook or MySpace.

Bullying often is a criminal offence. Report it.

Harassment is any unwelcome comments (written or spoken) or conduct which:

  • violates an individual’s dignity; and/or
  • creates an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment.

Harassment can take many forms including violence, threats, abuse, and damage to property. It can involve verbal abuse and name calling, offensive graffiti or post and can be received via text message, emails or social networking sites like Facebook or MySpace.

It may cause physical injury, mental stress, anxiety, or insecurity. It can also occur for a variety of reasons, including race, religious belief, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability.

Harassment is a criminal offence. If you are being harassed, report it.


If we prosecuted every single Twitter post that fell into one of those categories, there would only be corporate accounts and lawyers left on Twitter. Even mild mannered people like myself may at some point have been provoked into tweeting something offensive. The #twitterjoketrial showed the danger of the police  and prosecutors getting carried away.

At the same time, those shouting DON’T FEED THE TROLL are slightly missing the point. The fact that there is little danger of consequences means that Twitter users feel that they can use language such as “paki cunt” when berating other users. If we simply block and ignore, does it give them the impression that they can carry on spreading their vile opinions?

When Twitter takes a back seat and allows the site users to police bad behaviour, they are abdicating responsibility to others, and the inevitable “twitchfork” mob that ensues. A swifter reaction from Twitter could allow things to cool down.

Relying on young, naive Twitter users to keep a cool head and see the potential consequences of their actions will not always work. Pheeb was able to backtrack and deliver a decent apology, the mob was appeased and Twitter moved on. Rileyy was not as clever, and now has to deal with the fall out.



Do read @mummybarrow’s excellent blog about this. When young people are being abused like this, then it is time for Twitter to take a second look at their terms and conditions.


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One Comment on “Twitter, Trolls and Online Abuse – Is Ignoring the Best Tactic?

  1. Pingback: I am not going to blog about the Olympics | screenfulofwords

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