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.
In the meantime, a few quick links:
Another person has received a criminal conviction for something they posted on a social media site. Matthew Woods received a 12 week prison sentence for posting a message about missing schoolgirl April Jones on his Facebook page. At 20 years old, Woods sits in the same young and foolish male demographic as Azhar Ahmed, @Rileyy_69 and Leo Traynor’s troll.
The media have refrained from reporting Wood’s comments. This is a good thing. The joke assumes the guilt of the person accused of April Jones’ murder, so reporting it would prejudice a trial. Media restraint also minimises any distress to April’s family, and denies the attention-seeker further opportunities to provoke.
However… The only reason this Woods has received any attention in the first place was because he has been hauled before a magistrate! Had he not been arrested and charged, the comment would have been lost in the obscurity of his Facebook timeline after a couple of days. The comment obviously violates Facebook Terms & Conditions, so he might have been banned from using the site. We might describe that as a contractual matter, not criminal. And he might have lost a lot of friends (both in the real sense and the Facebook sense). But this is a social sanction, not criminal. Continue reading
Troll, by Doug Wildman on Flick
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.