Online trolling must not become accepted
You can't have missed the news coverage over the last couple of days highlighting the shocking and disgusting tirade of misogynistic and threatening abuse aimed at Caroline Criado-Perez - purely for her success in leading a campaign to get more women featured on UK bank notes. This is just the latest in a long line of trolling and bullying across all social networks including both Facebook and Twitter; activities that have not only shown those networks to be lacking in policy and practice for dealing with such events and also highlighting just how low some people will stoop to deliberately offend and hurt their fellow human beings.
I first witnessed such behaviour on a Facebook page set up to first help find and the pay tribute to a murdered teenager. From the moment the page was set up there were people posting under various pseudonyms - some just fake identities, others named or featuring avatars deliberately aimed at offending the friends and family of the victim. Posts from these users were offensive, graphic and massively upsetting; even from my view from the outside. Who would go out of their way to create more distress and show real hate to a family who were dealing with the murder of their daughter? We'd like to think this kind of thing is rare, but having looked at many similar pages since, the same pattern emerges across them all. From missing or murdered people through to pages dedicated to young cancer sufferers; there is rarely a page that doesn't attract this kind of base trolling.
Some would argue that online trolling are just words on a screen - but the threatening nature of some of the messages that Caroline Criado-Perez received could be construed as being real and serious. Words can have a devastating affect - and anyone who is already in a fragile position can quickly find what little confidence and will to live eroded - these words may be posted under the guise of anonymity but can quickly lead to self-doubt and doubt of those around the recipient.
Thankfully arrests are often made - but despite it being clear that posters aren't as anonymous as they think some actively continue to mock, threaten and abuse. Indeed, shortly after an arrest was made in the Criado-Perez case this weekend another account was created on Twitter with the name RapeHerNow and was used to post further threats and taunts to both Caroline AND the authorities.
Twitter came under fire for their lax handling of the situation - Twitter's news editor, Mark S Luckie even went as far as protecting and locking down his OWN account rather than respond to tweets from those powerless to help Caroline (who at the time was receiving abusive tweets at a rate of around 50 per hour). The network has since made noises that they plan to introduce a 'Report this Tweet' button in response.
The real concern is that this kind of trolling will become accepted as just another of the Internet's wrinkles, and that it's just a minority of social outcasts that have found a way of being noticed causing these problems, but this is a far more serious situation than that. This isn't an issue that affects one group - it's not a feminist problem, it's not a racial problem and it's nothing to do with social standing. Anyone can be a victim of trolling. Lives can easily be destroyed by this kind of thing and maybe it's time for online anonymity to become a thing of the past. Free speech ISN'T a shield the hide behind in order to be able to say anything without consequences. There is this strange artificial line between online and real-life, and the fact is this line is an illusion - anything said online can and does have repercussions on real people's lives and it's time for the social networks that started in college dorms to start taking on the morale responsibility they owe to their users and the wider world.