This week assistant editor James Cartwright encourages social media users to be kinder to each other in the wake of a week of terrible Twitter harassment. Comments below are encouraged as ever…
This week the UK’s Twitter feeds have been awash with malice, vitriol and abuse on more than a few occasions with anonymous feeds unleashing a barrage of insults and threats upon a number of unfortunate victims. The first (and most publicised) case saw Caroline Criado-Perez, a journalist campaigning for more female historical figures to appear on British bank notes, subjected to up to 50 tweets an hour threatening physical and sexual violence as a result of her campaign’s success.
Later on in the week Mary Beard, a professor of classics at the University of Cambridge was tweeted by Oliver Eric Rawlings: “@wmarybeard retweet this you filthy old slut. I bet your vagina is disgusting. #bbcradio2 what do you think @theJeremyVine arrest me? #ROLO.” Quite what Rawlings was attempting to achieve with his Tweet is a mystery, and with a mere 243 followers he’s unlikely to have made much of an impact. Even so Beard’s response was a brave one; retweeting his message and forcing him to publicly back down and apologise.
Finally, and rather more comically, there’s been a relentless stream of threats fired in the direction of GQ magazine for their recent depictions of One Direction on their cover. Young One Direction fans (directioners as they like to be known) have been unimpressed both with the choices of photo used and the headlines they’ve been paired with. “@Britsh GQ DO YOU REALIZE HOW MANY PEOPLE WANT TO CASTRATE THE PEOPLE WHO WORK FOR THIS SHITTY MAGAZINE?” was one of the more thoughtful, considered responses to the images, with many others brazenly threatening to inflict all manner of violence upon the GQ staff.
As isolated incidents all of these stories raise concern – threats of violence online should be taken as seriously as in the real world – but as three stories breaking within a single week they suggest an endemic problem with the way many people approach social media, treating it as an anonymous platform to publicly bully those with whom they disagree.
In fact in many ways the case of the menacing One Direction fans raises the most concern. These are a generation of young people raised on the internet, growing up in a world where this kind of flagrant abuse is acceptable. And if adults like Criado-Perez’s tormentors are the role models they have to look up to, then the future of social media looks pretty bleak. Even if Twitter introduces their proposed button to report abuse, it only serves as a faster way of dealing with harassment once it’s happened.
The real problem isn’t with Twitter, it’s with us (myself included from time to time). We spend too much time growing bitter and twisted in front of our screens, desensitised in our use of language due to endless streams of empty written communication. Even the comments feeds of national newspapers are riddled with the hollow, malicious word-vomit of so-called politically minded trolls. (It’s worth mentioning at this point that one of the most appealing aspects of this particular weekly column is the thought and consideration our readers put into their own responses, even those that disagree with what’s been said).
It’s high time we gave more thought to our online communication and the impact it has on others, whether it’s threats of violence or just accidental aggression. Calm down internet, and stop getting your knickers in such a twist.