I agree with Owen Jones. It might not be as catchy as I agree with Nick but in the context of this blog is it far more applicable. Do I agree with everything he has to say? No, no I don’t. No-one agrees with everything another person has to say, so what exactly am I agreeing with here? Well Owen’s piece in the Independent’s Voices section entitled Trolls, Caroline Criado-Perez, and how to tackle the dark side of Twitter.
He makes some extremely salient points but the one I want to talk about is the difference between trolling and disagreement, ‘It’s also important to make a distinction between passionate disagreement and trolling,’ he says. This is the reason why I think the twitter report abuse button/idea is more than a problematic one. I have had conversations with people where they think I am being abusive whereas I would just say I was disagreeing with their Point of View. I know of many people who see disagreements as abuse. If you don’t think the same as them then you must be being abusive. That is how a not insignificant number of people think.
So how do we deal with genuine abuse of the sort Caroline Criado-Perez has receive in recent days following her appearance on television over having a woman appear on a banknote? That is the old $64,000 question. Firstly of course we have the law, and people who are threatening someone whether it be over twitter or face to face are indeed breaking the law and should face the consequences of their actions. I think everyone knows that abuse is abuse whether it is anonymous on the internet or publicly in the street. Ignorance is not any sort of defence.
Secondly though it is education. Now this situation has caused the old ‘misogyny’ word to appear left, right and centre. I won’t be tackling this one because internet abuse can be sent to men too, by men and then misogyny obviously doesn’t play in as a factor. It isn’t funny or cool to abuse anyone and it is never harmless. The best way to tackle this type of behaviour is to get people to see it from the victims PoV. Would they be so blaze if this abuse was being sent to them, or their parents or their little brothers or sisters? I suspect they wouldn’t. This is an issue society has failed to tackle and the whole ‘treat others how you’d like to be treated’ thing is kinda old-fashioned to some people and that makes me sad.
Thirdly the actual practicalities behind the proposed report abuse button on twitter. Who is going to pay for the extra staff who are going to monitor all the reports of abuse? Who gets the final say on what is abuse or isn’t? Tweeting someone that you are going to rape them is a pretty slam dunk case and should be passed on to local law enforcement authorities. What about a sinister tweet saying they shouldn’t go down dark alleys late at night? Threatening but do these get passed on as well? How about when someone reports abuse when there was no abuse? Do those people get their accounts suspended for wasting twitter’s time? Do twitter pass on every abuse report and then people who claimed abuse get arrested for wasting police time?
As with many of these things the practicalities of what seem like a good idea need to be thought through carefully. As the Yorkshire Gob puts it (her words – not mine) ‘A report abuse button which is easy to click on is easy to click on for EVERYBODY, not just those who are genuinely being abused. So the EDL will probably click on it for the English Disco Lovers. And homophobes will click on it on the accounts of gay people. And TERFs will click on it on the accounts of transfolk.‘ and she is right. The report abuse button would be open to abuse itself. How easy would it be to go to all the people’s tweeter feeds you don’t like and click on a button to report them and hopefully get their account suspended for a bit just to piss them off? You can set up a fake tweeter account in an instant so it wouldn’t even put your proper account at risk.
Sometimes good ideas just don’t work in the real world (or in this case the online world). This lady received some vile abuse and one person has already been arrested this morning and hopefully more will follow. This type of abuse is not just morally wrong but is legally wrong too and the people who deal out sickening abuse should face the consequences. However just throwing up a ‘report abuse’ button might create far more problems than it solves and the real abuse may well just get swallowed up in all the noise as people use this tool to troll even more.
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