Sunday, August 4, 2013

#twittersilence, abuse buttons and all that

So today, International Friendship Day, some people are choosing to boycott Twitter, in response to prominent women receiving threats or rape, murder, and sometimes both, for the "crime" of having an opinion. Since then, people have also pointed out examples of men receiving similar abuse. As a protest against such haters I don't think it makes sense. It seems to me that responding to bullies who want you to shut up, by being quiet, even just for a day, is kinda playing into their hands.

Also, Twitter is an opt in service. So seeing what twitter is like if you leave it for a day so that all who remain are the bullies wouldn't really work, unless you follow those bullies. You would then, of course, also have to log on to twitter to see your empty timeline.

And yet, #twittersilence is (as I write) trending 6th worldwide, and is no 1 in the UK.

For a movement to get people to be quiet, it's certainly got lots of people talking. And that is good. Because there is a problem with a sizeable minority (at least I hope it's a minority) of online bullies, and they need to be tackled. Being silent won't tackle them.

It is unacceptable for someone's twitter mention feed to be filled with stuff like this, this and this.

What can be done about it?

Some have suggested an "online abuse" button. Firstly, this probably wouldn't work very well. For those that take abusing people on twitter (and elsewhere) to a pathological level, losing their twitter account wouldn't matter. It's very easy to set up a new email account, and then a new twitter account, and carry on dishing out abuse from behind the safety of one's keyboard.

Also, such a button is itself open to abuse. What constitutes an abusive post? Certainly this blog will contain posts which some homeopaths, Catholics and Mens Rights Activists might well find abusive. There may well be others, these were just the first three that sprang to mind. However, I think it is well within my rights to say these things, even if they will inevitably offend some people. However, all it takes is for an organised group/individual of, say, Creationists, to take offence at an article decrying their latest attempts to undermine education, and to all click the abuse button, silencing a voice, until the matter gets resolved by an admin in a centre somewhere. This behaviour isn't just hypothetical.

So a blanket "report abuse" button would unlikely have the desired effect, and might even silence opinions that have every right to be out there.

Of course, the vile abuse that kicked off this whole #twittersilence is not a free speech issue. It's an issue for the law. Which is why I much prefer the suggestion of a button that sends the tweet directly to the police. Sending an article that has offended you (but isn't offensive) would thus be a waste of police time. However, actual threats of injury, rape and death would not be. Those versed in the law would be able to assess the severity of a threat, and take appropriate action.

There's more that can be done though. Like tackling the abuse head on, witness this exchange:

On a larger scale, perhaps a genius could step forward and create a tool like Simon Perry's FishBarell, which makes reporting dubious health claims to the ASA very simple and straightforward. A similar tool that could capture a screen grab, the URL etc and forward on to the police would make it much easier to report unlawful abuse. Alas, I do not have the skill to do this (I don't even know what it is I don't know on how to get started). Thankfully Jane Fae's already working on something like this.

These last couple of weeks a lot of focus has been on the abusive way some people use twitter. Let's remind ourselves of the good side of twitter. After all, twitter is only what people make it. If you're on twitter, what are you going to do with your twitter account in the next few days?


  1. Having been hounded off twitter by a braying mob who threatened me and my family over a single poorly thought out tweet I would like to see it made easier to report threats of violence to the correct part of the relevant police force.

  2. I"m sorry to hear you were hounded off twitter. Let's hope Jane Fae's button comes to fruition


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