August 1st, 2013 by matthias

Read this first, it’s worth it: “Twitter Troll Stops When Someone Threatens To Tell His Mom¬†[thank you @SocialTimes]

I would like to gleefully repeat this endlessly¬† – and I am sure I’ll be able use this example in one of my seminars: the weakness of a troll is exposed not only in his ineptitude at sniping from anonymity, but also the social control mechanisms (the spectre of someone telling his mum) which bring him down. A meme is born.

Twitter is currently in the press for all the wrong reasons – some misogynist idiots are trying to silence vocal women on the internet. Actually, that’s not really news, as it pretty much happens every day, and not only on the internet. What’s different is not even the vile nature of the methods (rape, other violence and murder threats) but how publicly this is conducted. This is obviously well known to the trolls, and they are counting on their supportive audience to join in (and men in pubs to nod in agreement), expecting to overwhelm the victims with the sheer volume of intimidation. What they seemingly haven’t learnt, is that with every account they create, and every tweet they send, they create evidence against them – and duly, reports of arrests are coming in. And in an attempt to ruin someone else’s lives, they have ruined their own.

It’s very possible that the legal consequences will be limited – but they won’t be on the internet. You don’t need to be the NSA (although it obviously helps) to find out about what people do online – being a potential employer who checks the reputation of candidates online suffices. Having seen this troll’s clear name and picture, the impact of the trolling on the troll may even outlast the length of the impact on the victim. The words ‘you will never get a job’ spring to mind – and here’s where the social control kicks the troll again. Never mind what his mum will say – although it’s beautiful to see how just mentioning a dominant female figure in his life brought him down – it’s that everyone can forever see what he’s done, and he most probably will suffer for it.

What’s the lesson? I believe already that we’re living in an age of an anti-feminist backlash, and I know that social media are abused in this way. I’m pleased and fully support those who shout back, and I hope I can do my part. I won’t even be surprised if there’s some ill thought-through attempt by the government to punish the platforms (for the record, yes, I think Twitter’s management response has been fairly lame so far), ignoring the true issues causing the problem. What I’m learning from this is that nothing, absolutely nothing, and no one, is safe on the internet. Neither the victims, nor their trolls. Not those who shun social media, thinking they are safe (see my NSA reference above). Nor the state which thinks it can use it to spy on its citizens (enter stage: Edward Snowden). All our lives are now about the data trails we leave, and how they affect us in real life. I always used to say in my talks so far, that the offline world rules the online world – but I think we’re just about to see that change.

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