August 9, 2013
Social media brings out the best and worst of social interactions. The anonymity and far-reaching nature of the web means that the internet provides us with the ability to say whatever we want, to and about whomever we want, whether messages of support and encouragement or words of hate and abuse.
The internet is a medium for free speech, so much of the time the good is taken with the bad, however as an increasing number of us share our lives online an interesting debate into the boundaries of free speech and what actions can be taken against those who use it to abuse others is opening up.
The phenomenon of people using the internet as a way to spout abuse at others is not a new thing; and there have been examples of trolling from its earliest days. Just last year Olympic diver Tom Daley was subjected to troll abuse, and more recently TV historian Mary Beard received abuse and bomb threats on Twitter! Disturbingly, more and more cases of people targeting the most vulnerable are coming to light, from parents who have set up tribute pages to their children that have died, to young people who have been subjected to intense online bullying – to the point that they have sadly taken their own lives.
Many of those who are considered to be trolls are regarded as an annoyance to be ignored, and for the most part their abuse can be put down to harsh criticisms of a person or a brand, but there is a need for action against those who cross the line and post abusive threats on the Internet and in social.
As a response to the mounting number of violent tweets towards women, last week feminist and journalist Caitlin Moran lead a Twitter silence encouraging those who support the cause against trolling to shun Twitter for the whole day. Whilst the hashtag #twittersilence trended the response to the campaign was divisive.
It is clear that when it comes to moderating what is published on social media networks there are a lot of grey areas; on one hand free speech has to be protected, on the other, the levels of abuse and the tragic outcome of those who have suffered from the hands of online abuse needs to be properly dealt with. And although people have been prosecuted for trolling in extreme cases, actions have to be taken on a more regular basis.