Disclaimer: I am a Twitter novice. I believe I have a grand total of five tweets. But I have certainly been exposed to the people who see the freedom of cyberspace as an open invitation to go beyond just broadcasting insulting comments, and be downright threatening.
The anonymity of Twitter (and other social media sites) certainly lends itself to more aggressive users. Those who wouldn’t have the guts to attack someone in person feel perfectly comfortable doing it when protected by a computer screen and invented username. By the nature of social media, we invite people into our private lives, but that by no means equates to us inviting hateful comments from all corners of cyberspace.
But that’s one of the fundamental shortcomings of the Internet. Because when you allow yourself to connect with billions of people, you are connecting with all of those people. And unfortunately, that includes those with the death threats and the rape threats. How much can Twitter really do? How often can the network's moderators monitor their site to make sure it is being used for pure intentions?
After many singed an online petition, Twitter has finally announced the addition of a “report abuse” button. This seems like a fairly painless solution to the problem of abusive users, and sends a definitive signal that the company is taking steps to make Twitter a safe space for all their users.
Most highly populated social media sites, like Twitter, just rely on self-regulation, but when people cross the line and the self-regulating mechanism fails, it tends to have disastrous results. Most recently, Caroline Criado-Perez campaigned for at least one (non-royal) woman to be represented on British banknotes and found herself at the receding end of death and rape threats. One of her cowardly abusers hid behind the handle of “Caroline is Dead” and threatened her with, “I’m going to pistol whip you over and over until you lose consciousness while your children watch and then burn ur flesh.” The police have actually been making arrests as a reaction to such terrifying threats.
Experts who actually study trolling insist that when users cross the line into abusive behavior, it should be considered illegal. Just because the death or rape threats are coming through e-mail instead of snail mail, should not delegitimize them in anyway. The danger is just as real and the retribution should be just as steep.