1 expert and 1 parent have answered
Last weekend freelance journalist Caroline Criado-Perez was subject to a torrent of vile abuse and threats of rape on Twitter, for the heinous crime of running a successful campaign to get Jane Austen on the new ten pound note.
A 21-year-old man has been arrested in connection with the threats, but most of the online anger has been directed at Twitter for not being seen to deal with the abuse appropriately. In response, Twitter has announced plans to roll out a ‘report abuse’ button for individual tweets currently only available on its iPhone app.
It is right that Twitter is streamlining their long and complicated reporting procedures and taking some responsibility for the safety and wellbeing of its users, and they have been working with the police to ensure that the most serious threats are dealt with by the appropriate conduit for such things; the criminal justice system. However, there is a real danger of the police washing their hands of abuse that takes place on Twitter, with senior officer Andy Trotter saying, ‘we don’t want to be in this arena’.
A universal ‘report abuse’ button will not stop users abusing and threatening people online, and it may actually allow more of these trolls to get away with this kind of behaviour with impunity. After all, if the Twitter moderation team becomes the highest authority to take your complaint seriously, the worst an offender will face is the closing of their account.
Any report function can also be misused, especially by people of power or influence, to shut down criticism. We’ve already seen a number of MPs confusing ‘trolling’ with ‘disagreeing in a disagreeable manner’.
Sometimes the best way to silence trolls is to be old-fashioned, and just threaten to tell their mum, as happened to the 20-year-old student who abused classicist Mary Beard. The more serious abuse must continue to be investigated by the police. Mean spirits and the normalisation of misogynistic abuse is a societal problem that won’t be fixed with a button.
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Trolling on the internet will never stop I'm certain of that. The ease in which some trolls can technically avoid detection makes sure of that. The report button is going to help in a very small way because Twitter like all other social network sites cannot afford to provide the volume of staff needed to manage the volume of reports they are likely going to receive.
The old adage "do not feed the trolls" is very true and is much better than any report button. The problem is when someone is abused online in this way its a natural reaction for many to respond to it and therein lies a big part of the problem.
Some of the abuse as highlighted in these recent cases is disgraceful and indeed in some examples illegal and the full force of the law should meet those identified for sending it.
Many law enforcement agencies in the UK are ill equipped, resourced or knowledgeable enough to deal with the likely rise in complaints so I can understand their reluctance to come onboard with this.
Personally I think Twitter could consider user moderation to support them in dealing with these types of trolling situations.
There's no easy answer to the problem I'm afraid.