Twitter trolls and being the difference…

So twitter (and the wider world) has been awash this week with the abuse that feminists are getting online for standing up for women’s rights. It’s gone so far that people have tweeted rape and death threats as well as filthy abusive messages to the women concerned. One man was arrested for his threats and I wouldn’t be surprised if there are further arrests yet to come. It’s been interesting to watch it all play out (if interesting is the right word). Some take the view that Twitter should add a button to report abusive tweets, some think it’s the police’s responsibility to monitor it, some have retweeted abusive messages in an effort to highlight the abuse and bring those sending the messages into the public sphere.

Personally I’m not sure what the best response is. But I don’t need to see retweets using the C-word or F-word on my twitter feed, I follow people because I like what they stand for, and in a way I think retweeting offensive stuff plays into the hands of the offender.  And neither do I think a report abuse button will work. If people can tweet such awfulness so readily I imagine the button itself would be used too readily, becoming overused, therefore negating the seriousness of why it is there in the first place.
I’ve just been sitting with my husband and discussing all this over dinner. He seems to think that this is largely about bravado, lads trying to get one up on their mates – you know, who can post the most offensive tweet, who can get the biggest reaction, a bit like the naughty kids at school seeing who can rile the teacher into shouting (or worse). And just like kids at school, it’s funny and a laugh, until the outside world finds out. The child gets sent to the head and their parents told of their behaviour and suddenly punishment looms and the child becomes remorseful. Which, interestingly, is pretty much what happened to one chap this week who made the mistake of tweeting something foul to Cambridge Professor Mary Beard, and then a fellow tweeter offered to send the tweet to the offenders mother. He immediately apologised!
However I am not sure it’s really as simple as that. There is, I’m sure, a certain kind of person who takes great delight in winding people up and making offensive comments to get a rise, but at what point does it go beyond that? My husband suggested that none of these people would be stupid enough to tweet a threat and then go ahead and carry it out, they’d be signing their own arrest warrant. Thing is though, I imagine that those who would carry out a rape or worse are just as capable of reading the tweets, seeing an address made public and then carrying the original threat out.
I think the easiest and least intelligent way of hurting a woman is through physical violence (sweeping generalisations will follow…). Most men are physically stronger than most women. Attacking a woman violently is a cowardly crime, it’s easy. Most women, I suggest, are emotionally and mentally stronger than most men. Therefore crimes that attack a womans ability to stand strong, emotional abuse for example, attacking her walls at the strongest point, takes guile and persistence. And please hear me, I am not belittling rape or other physical crimes here, but I think that those crimes that attack a woman’s ability to be strong, can have just as much affect on her life. Imagine a single woman living alone being threatened regularly with physical assault and rape, even though the crime may not actually be committed she may live in continual fear of the attack happening, even when in her own home, a place we should all be able to feel completely safe (and sadly so many don’t and can’t).
I do wonder how many of those making insults online recognise the affect of their behaviour. Do they just see it as playground fun and larking round with their mates or do they know how much harm they can do?
The thing about the internet, wonderful invention that it is, is that for many it seems a separate world to their own lives. What happens online stays online. Except that it isn’t and it doesn’t. As we saw this week, in the case of the man arrested for threatening Caroline Criado Perez, or the man who was threatened with his mother seeing the offensive tweet he sent Mary Beard. Are people really so naive as to think that these two worlds are not connected? Last year a boy was arrested after tweeting Olympian Tom Daly an offensive tweet about his Father who had died the year before. There have been cases of people arrested on suspected terrorism charges due to Facebook posts or Tweets. Either people really are stupid enough to think they can remain anonymous in a digital age, especially when their name and photo are linked to their accounts… or people don’t care. Or perhaps it’s a combination of both.
And I think that’s what concerns me more, that people don’t seem to care. I wonder if they would actually say those words to their victims face if they encountered them? Posting something online is a cowardly way of being offensive, you don’t have to even leave the comfort of your bedroom, you can be a vicious thug, a bully, a potential rapist, just sitting in the pub tapping away on your mobile. Who in their right mind would say these things in public, or in front of their family or friends? Because in reality they are doing just that, but somehow it is not so bad when it’s online. Except it is. Ask Caroline Criado Perez or Vicky Beeching and I’m sure they feel as bad as if someone stood right in front of them and hurled abuse at them.
As I said I’m not sure I advocate retweeting, that almost seems the same as shouting back at someone. I don’t know what the answer is, but I do know that as a Christian I need to be careful as to how I react in difficult situations. Just this week someone was very rude to me, completely unreasonable and bullying, and I think most people would say I would have been more than justified in responding angrily. But I know that I am called to be different. I am called to show God’s love. I am called to be the light. And just as I think people should tweet or FB just as they would in ‘real life’,  I need to show God’s love in all situations, I need to react in a Godly way, in a way that is different to this world.
I really don’t know what is the right response to online trolls. Report them? Answer back? Ignore them? Name & shame? I don’t know, but as Christians let us show a different way.

I am going to post more on this tomorrow as the stuff that has happened today has really made me think about what porn is and how we react to it…

Do read this by Vicky Beeching on the trolling. And for the record I think she’s a legend so go read it and you can follow her on twitter @vickybeeching  

edit 2: 5/8/13. A couple of interesting blog posts related to the subject:
Pam’s Perambulations
Tanya Marlow

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  • Reply
    August 2, 2013 at 8:00 pm

    I think that those items retweeted today were to highlight to VB's followers the sort of abuse she has had to put up with. I wasn't aware of that level of abuse and because I have protected my account from day one on twitter, I hope that I never have to do so. But, than, I'm not a vulnerable female.

    I take your point strongly about a Godly response and Jesus spoke about turning the other cheek, but just sometimes that isn't an option and you need to take some sort of action to restore the balance, or you become a perpetual victim. Not a good place to be.

    I suspect that if I had received the sort of abusive tweets that I've seen today, I'd have wanted to lash out- but that would be just feeding the trolls. Better to just block and ignore them in my view, and if they persist than complain to the police or the internet abuse authority (I can't remember their title).

    And ignoring them takes the heat out of it all and perhaps they'll see that they're wasting their time doing it.

  • Reply
    August 2, 2013 at 9:29 pm

    Hi Ernie
    How you doing? hope all good?

    Yes I know why she did it and I wasn't really criticising VB personally just thinking about the wider issue. And like you I don't know how I would react under the circumstances…

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