Following the hideous trolling and abuse piled on people like Caroline Criado-Perez and Stella Creasy last week, there has been much debate over how Twitter as a company could solve the problem.1
Much of the chat has centred around the idea of a ‘Report Abuse’ button… but I have my misgivings. The risk of such a feature, is that mobs of idealogues will co-ordinate to report as ‘abuse’ those Tweeters with whom they disagree. And celebrities with a large following will be able to ask their fans to report genuine critics as ‘abuse’. This Flashboy post critiques the proposal in more detail.
There has been another wave of online discussion about ‘trolling’ on social media platforms like Twitter. The latest round of debate began after Caroline Criado-Perez wrote about the hideous abuse she received during the course of her campaign to keep a woman on the £10 note.
I have contributed a few comments in the past on this issue, and do not have anything new to say on the current controversy, save to say that at some point (it may be now, it may be later) the politicians will seek to impose legislation on this kind of speech. I mentioned this conundrum during my #ORGcon panel discussion with David Allen Green et al in June.
For once, I am ahead of the Internet curve. This fantastic post by Leo Traynor is all over the Internets and the Twitters this morning… but yrstly was sharing it yesterday! Does that make me some kind of opinion former?
In the blog, Traynor describes how he was bullied off Twitter by a persistent troll, and then lived in fear when he started getting offline threats too. Eventually, he managed to track down the IP address of the troll, and found that his tormentor was the 17 year old son of a friend of his.
This is a useful piece of writing for two reasons. First, it is an example of speech that I do not believe should be free, that it is legitimate to criminalise. Traynor experienced sustained personal threats. It is the very opposite of the ‘generic racism‘ and unspecified unpleasantness put out by Liam Stacey (who posted racist messages about Fabrice Muamba) and Azhar Ahmed (convicted for a Facebook rant).
I was also eager to share, because it speaks directly to an idle wish I made in an article for the Free Word website, earlier this year. Discussing internet ‘trolls’, I suggested that an enterprising journalist might track down some of the people who do this, and find out what makes them tick. The answer in Leo Traynor’s case was the young man was bored, confused, and appeared to enjoy the feeling of power it gave him.