Rise of the trolls

Reblogged from ESRC’s Society Now, Autumn 2013, Issue 17, page 25.

In recent years, online cyberbullying, trolling, and inciting people to commit suicide has increased. In 2013 there was a wave of reports of online rape, murder, and bomb threats, with child-suicides linked to cyberbullying and online extortion. Whilst it is desperately sad that it took even one case for this issue to finally reach general awareness, at last the question is being asked: how can we make the internet safer? There is no single answer to such a complex problem, but many smaller improvements can, collectively, advance online safety. Continue reading

Twitter: Where free speech and censorship can be synonyms

Reblogged from the Political Studies Association.

In 2010, Yoani Sánchez famously said “Freedom is the possibility of standing on a street corner and shouting, ‘There is no freedom here!'” (Libertad). In recent weeks, however, the platform has not been the street corner, but instead social networks like Twitter, and the freedom in question has been whether we can or should be allowed to say whatever we like online, however abusive, without consequence.

The affair that ignited this discussion began in late July and early August 2013, when anonymous Twitter users began sending rape threats to journalist Caroline Criado-Perez, then death threats to MP Stella Creasy, and finally bomb threats to more female journalists and even academic Mary Beard. The result was a media storm over online behaviours such as trolling, cyberbullying, and cyberstalking, which led to equally intense debates about the issues of censorship, freedom of speech, and whether current legislation dealing with online abuse is entirely inadequate or far too draconian. Continue reading

Writing for the press: the deleted scenes

In late July and early August 2013, the stories of Caroline Criado-Perez, the bomb threats, and latterly, the horrific tragedy of Hannah Smith broke across the media, and as a result, the behaviour supposedly known as “trolling” was pitched squarely into the limelight. There was the inevitable flurry of dissections, analyses, and opinion pieces, and no doubt like any number of academics in similar lines of work, I was asked to write various articles on this behaviour. Some I turned down for different reasons, but one that I accepted was for the Observer. (Here’s the final version that came out in both the Observer and the Guardian.) Continue reading

What is turning so many young men into internet trolls?

Reblogged from The Guardian. (NB. NOT my choice of headline. Again!)

Two thousand, three hundred and ninety-three years ago, in 380BC, Plato wrote the myth of the Ring of Gyges, in which the shepherd, Gyges, discovers a ring that makes him invisible at will. He promptly uses the protection this offers to infiltrate the royal household, seduce the queen, assassinate the king and take the kingdom. Plato goes on: “If now there should be two such rings, and the just man should put on one and the unjust the other, no one could be found, it would seem, of such adamantine temper as to persevere in justice.”

Plato felt that the protection of being unidentifiable could corrupt even the most morally upstanding person. After the week she has had, Caroline Criado-Perez might well sympathise with that bleak assessment. After she had successfully petitioned to have Jane Austen’s image appear on the new £10 banknote, Twitter trolls used the anonymity of the internet to inundate her with threats of rape and violence. Continue reading

Minor irritant or real threat? Time to decide what a troll is

Reblogged from The Conversation.

Somewhere around 2010, the concept of trolling arrived in the national consciousness with a flurry of news stories: the hateful tweet Tom Daley received about his father during the Olympics; the defacement of Jade Goody’s memorial site; the harassment and death threats sent to Louise Mensch and Nadine Dorries; and most recently, the torrent of rape and sexual assault threats Caroline Criado-Perez received, just for campaigning to have Jane Austen put on a banknote.

Some trolling targets have started to disregard the Do Not Feed The Troll mantra by variously retweeting offensive messages, or by turning the tables on the trolls and making sport of them. In 2012, TV host Jimmy Kimmel ran a four-part Celebrities Read Mean Tweets series which has been watched over 40m times, and comedian Isabel Faye created a catchy, all-singing tribute to her trolls. Continue reading