Can Twitter trolls be silenced or is Twitter heading to Second Life?

Can Twitter trolls be silenced or is Twitter heading to Second Life?

The daughter of Robin Williams, Zelda Williams, was horribly hounded by Twitter trolls after the comedian’s death.

Disgusting, manipulated images of her deceased father were posted to her Twitter account – who does that?

Apparently a lot of sick people who think it’s fun to purposefully and obviously go out to verbally bully and harass innocent people. They seem to especially enjoy doing it at a time of great personal trauma.

Del Harvey, Twitter vice president of trust and safety, released a statement on the Zelda Williams matter, saying the company will be updating its security policies:

We will not tolerate abuse of this nature on Twitter. We have suspended a number of accounts related to this issue for violating our rules and we are in the process of evaluating how we can further improve our policies to better handle tragic situations like this one. This includes expanding our policies regarding self-harm and private information, and improving support for family members of deceased users.

It seems a good move, but they can’t actually stop the trolls. It is easy for these vile muppets to set up other accounts and continue with their bullying.

It begs the question as to whether Twitter may head down the same path as Second Life. Users are up but usage is down on Twitter, but the trolls still live there.

The mandatory approach for reporting abuse is not as effective for the general public; people who are as famous as Zelda Williams can command a pretty immediate response from Twitter. The majority of people do not have the pulling power to drive Twitter into an immediate response, nor do Twitter, I imagine, have the resources to track the volume of abuse served through the channel and stop it.

The way to protect yourself is to personally, systematically block abusers, but it’s not fail-safe, so leaving the network entirely is. Many high profile people, including Zelda Williams did that, closing down both her Twitter and Instagram accounts.

It is truly terrifying when you are trolled and abused online. Walking away seems the only option. There doesn’t seem to be any really effective method on the social networks of modifying behavior, like there is in other forums.

Of course the law could implement more stringent responses to public online harassment.

In the UK it is an offence under Section 127 of the Communications Act 2003, punishable by up to six months in prison, to send an electronic message that is “grossly offensive or of an indecent, obscene, or menacing character”.

In Australia the Commonwealth Criminal Code Act (the Criminal Code) Part 10.6 can be used to prosecute individuals engaging in “troll” behaviour.

The reality is that very few people have been prosecuted.

We have laws for libel, harassment and abuse, but it seems the legal system hasn’t got to grips with Twitter and other online interactions. There are a lot of unpleasant people online, is it now a fact of life. In the main it is unregulated and commonplace.

Is it down to the community to drown out the trolls and make it unacceptable, or is it down to the law? 

Or will networks like Twitter become like Second Life, people walking away, closing their accounts down to leave the trolls to troll themselves?

The impact of cyber bullying and trolling is having an effect on our society, but how it will play out and be managed is still anyone’s guess. Users can be anonymous or revel in the “fame” of being a vile individual – and they do. People such as Tristan Barker, Australia’s “worst internet troll”, whose “aim was to see how far he could push his 300,000-plus teenage internet-subscribed fans”. It seems trolling will be part of our society, until our society gets to grips with the troll.

Fi Bendall is the managing director of Bendalls Group, a team of highly trained digital specialists, i-media subject matter experts and developers.

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