Twitter Trolls in Trouble

What can be done to protect women online from Twitter trolls?

So it seems that two Internet ‘Twitter trolls’ have finally pleaded guilty to sending threatening and abusive tweets to Caroline Criado-Perez.  Isabella Sorley (23) and John Nimmo (25) have pleaded guilty at Westminster magistrates and are to be sentenced later in the month.

After a successful summer campaign to get Jane Austen’s likeness on the new £10 note, Criado-Perez began to receive a deluge of vicious rape, violence, bomb and death threats.  It now looks like the two guilty parties, Sorley and Nimmo (who did not know each other), had set up multiple Twitter accounts in order to widen the aggression.

The question that remains then is: Why her?  And why then?  For starters, there already is a female likeness on UK bank notes, that of Elizabeth Fry on the £5 – plus of course the Queen is on every piece of currency in the country.  This surely cannot be the only explanation: monetary misogyny.  Why then did so many people feel the need to attack her at that moment in time?

Criado-Perez was interviewed on Tuesday on Radio 4’s PM program (iPlayer link only available until the 14th Jan) and when confronted with the question of her preference towards imprisonment as a punishment for the perpetrators, she replied that a ‘re-education of the country’ was in order to ensure that attitudes change towards women in power instead of scapegoats being harshly punished.  This is admirable of course, and secures her place in the moral high ground, but surely there must be more that can be done to protect women in this way.

People have discussed the idea of a yearly subscription to Twitter that would eliminate a lot of the ghost accounts that allow people anonymity, yet this would inevitably lead to a complete shift in Twitter’s democratic principles.  I personally would be comfortable in paying a small yearly fee – but a lot of people who make Twitter great (parody accounts, close friends etc.) would be lost and corporations would surely enroll armies of people to create hugely loyal brand sycophants.

Another idea that floats around is filters that monitor keywords, although this feels a bit Chinese.  Some of the funniest one-liners online revolve around angry expletive-laden rage at the modern world (although sexual violence is an obvious point of contention).

I think that the answer lies in shame.  People who trawl the Internet to cause offence can only do so under the shroud of anonymity.  The same anonymity that is noble in the hands of whistleblowers and revolutionaries is also used to reprehensibly abuse the vulnerable and visible – too often feminist women with strong opinions.

Collectively social networks and forums must figure out a way to shame the people who are caught doing this somehow.  Maybe by insisting on a valid email address of next of kin to redirect abusive messages too; maybe by requiring an embarrassing picture or personal story that is digitally locked away until the user is caught being consistently abhorrent online.

Obviously I don’t know the answer.  But I am glad that people are beginning to be caught for committing virtual hate crimes on the Internet…

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