Recently the Internet has been alive with the story of Caroline Criado Perez, a freelance journalist who campaigned to have a female on a UK banknote. Following the success of this campaign she received literally thousands of rape and death threats on Twitter. However, when she attempted to report these atrocities Twitter is reported to have ignored her.
As a child I suffered from an episode of bullying. Although of course we didn't call it bullying back then. It was very rare that parents intervened in playground politics. If you were verbally abused then the chant of "sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me" was drilled into you. If you were physically hurt then the prescribed response from our elders was more often than not, "Well, then hit them back harder."
In these politically correct times, these hard learnt lessons of youth seem to have been forgotten or abandoned for more lofty ideals. Or perhaps the anonymity of the internet has meant that when confronted with bullying many feel unable to face their attackers and fight back. Whichever the reason It would appear that this state of affairs has dis-empowered the victims, leaving them vulnerable. So instead of speaking out, or hitting back harder, we increasingly turn to the parental figures of our social networking to help us with these situations. The website owners themselves.
In the case of Ms. Criado Perez, petitions were started and even suggestions that users should boycott the site until Twitter took responsibility for protecting its users. The outcome of this was a public admission from Twitter that they have failed women who have suffered such online abuse and an agreement that they would instigate a report button on its feed, or perhaps we should more accurately describe it as a "run to mum" button.
Because as we all know the very last thing you want to do is go running to mum when you are trying to deal with a bully. It may for a time appear to solve the problem, but in reality all it does is drive the bullying further underground. And that is exactly what will happen when dealing with these online bullying incidents becomes standardised and automated. The account will be deleted, leaving the perpetrator free to open yet another account and start again. Becoming sneakier and more vicious with every incarnation of the bully's online persona.
The Cambridge Professor Mary Beard decided to take matters into her own hands, and handled things a little differently. Also the subject of cyber bullying she successfully dealt with her assailant through open naming and shaming.
Her approach pretty much makes the whole concept of a report abuse button a redundant addition to twitter functionality. Twitter has no moral duty to protect its users because it already has a fantastic mechanism for dealing with Trolls, it is called the retweet button. The action of retweeting encourages the victim to stand up for themselves, and allows their friends and family to support them.
According to the Telegraph there are over 200 million active users, so who needs to report inappropriate content to a small team of people in an undisclosed data-centre. Report it to the entire Twitter community.
Following the horrific abuse of Ms. Criado Perez, further examples of harassment and bullying have come to light in connection with this case. The MP Stella Creasey also chose to retweet abusive messages. Indeed when examining the case of Ms. Criado Perez further we discover that a 25 year old man has now been arrested in connection with her abuse, despite the supposed inaction of Twitter.
So we are now faced with a community on one hand complaining that Twitter should be doing more, and are duty bound to protect their users, but the victims themselves are exemplifying how personal action and responsibility when dealing with these matters can be very effective tools. Probably far more effective than any report button will ever be.