One hundred and forty characters is not a lot for a death threat, but Twitter has some adroit users.
After Caroline Criado-Perez campaigned to keep women on British banknotes, specifically, to put author of razor sharp satirical character studies and bloody good bodice rippers, Jane Austen, onto the £10 note, she received a storm of rape and murder threats via Twitter. To qualify ‘storm’, we’re talking about 50 an hour for 12 hours.
Two arrests were made subsequently, Twitter announced a new ‘Report Abuse’ button; but the tweets reportedly continued. An MP who supported Criado-Perez received rape threats; female journalists received bomb threats. Often, the Internet can seem like an intimidating place for women with opinions. Read YouTube comments or reader comments on various articles, check out female journalists’ experiences online. In fact, people with opinions, full stop – a male journalist listed the abuse he’d received throughout his career, including circulation of his photo among English Defense League members.
Does Twitter, and by extension, the Internet, need to be regulated? The sprawling leviathan of cat pictures with comically misspelled titles, subjected to further rules, guidelines and laws?
Whether you agree that Jane Austen’s literary prowess should be recognised by plastering her face on your money, I think most sane people can agree that threatening to rape, assault or murder someone because you don’t agree with their opinion is not a useful form of discussion. This is not a free exchange of ideas, it’s a free exchange of brain dead abuse. And it’s illegal, in Britain and New Zealand.
Regulating the Internet is a difficult thing, however. It can require international agreements, a fair amount of investment in terms of money and manpower, and said regulation can often be poorly understood and thus, problematically drafted, leading to worrying potential uses or consequences: see the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the arguments against the Three Strikes Act.
There’s also the importance of freedom of speech, however, our laws dictate that freedom of speech doesn’t extend to hate speech. Shouldn’t this apply online too?
I’m a fan of free discussion and the general freedom of the Internet; it’s seen a number of wondrously creative ideas turned into reality, such as filming a dog excitedly chase deer across a road and its owner’s increasingly blasphemous exclamations. (I <3 Fenton).
But bombarding people with rape and death threats online shouldn’t be an acceptable form of Internet interaction. There’s a petition going at the moment requiring Twitter to make reporting abuse and blocking users easier. Some are saying Twitter should look at algorithms to recognise repeat abusive trollers.
I love the Interwebs and the opportunities it makes possible. But threatening to pistol whip someone and burn their skin (yes this happened) because they want to think of Mr Darcy every time they look at their £10 note is messed up. Women, people, shouldn’t have to fear for their lives or safety when interacting on the Internet.
Idealog has been covering the most interesting people, businesses and issues from the fields of innovation, design, technology and urban development for over 12 years. And we're asking for your support so we can keep telling those stories, inspire more entrepreneurs to start their own businesses and keep pushing New Zealand forward. Give over $5 a month and you will not only be supporting New Zealand innovation, but you’ll also receive a print subscription, an Idealog t-shirt and a copy of the new book by David Downs and Dr. Michelle Dickinson, No. 8 Recharged (while stocks last).