Twitter Trolls – can they ever be stopped?

As great as twitter is, It’s become increasingly abused by ‘twitter trolls’ and cyber bullying. By definition this is the use of technology to harass, threaten, embarrass, or target another person. Wikipedia defines trolling as  ‘someone who posts inflammatory, extraneous , off-topic messages in an online community, such as a forum, chat room, or blog, with the primary intent of provoking readers into an emotional responseor of otherwise disrupting normal on-topic discussion.’

I have read on my own twitter timeline, gossip magazines and newspapers about high profile celebrities that fall as victims of twitter trolls. As much as their lives are in the public’s attention, death threats and vulgar abuse is a day to day occurrence for some people.

I was on Twitter the other night and stumbled across Scott Mills (BBC Radio1 DJ) replying back to some twitter trolls sending him homophobic messages.

Tweets about trolls

 Twitter strives to protect its users from spam and abuse. Technical abuse and user abuse is not tolerated on Twitter.com, and will result in permanent suspension. Any accounts engaging in the activities specified below are subject to permanent suspension. Link for policy. But is a suspension enough punishment when they can create a new account easily and carry on sending abusive messages under a different name?

“Seriously. I’m lovin the trolls. Can’t wait for them to have their special moment on air. Morons:)”  

In an article by The Daily Mail last year X Factor singer Cher Lloyd was calling for government intervention to halt online abuse from ‘trolls’ who torment others via social networking sites. But are new laws from the government and help from the police going to stop trolling? Probably not.

Shouldn’t police be putting more time into investigating real crimes than twitter trolls? In an article by The Guardian  A spokesman for the Police Federation, Steve Evans said: “The sheer scale of it is huge. Police resources are stretched almost to breaking point, so if we started trying to investigate every instance of stupidity within Twitter, then we would be really pushed.”

This is a very sensitive subject that is extremely hurtful to the person involved and it is disappointing that Twitter is used in this way. But can twitter trolls really be stopped? If people stop talking about trolls and giving them the 15 minutes of fame that they desire; will they still feel the need to do it?

Written by Lisa Hammerton

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2 thoughts on “Twitter Trolls – can they ever be stopped?

  1. Can I bring this topic closer to home?

    I noticed some students on our course tweeting negatively about their classes. Guess what I did? I replied hoping to remind them that Twitter is a public space (and they don’t know who is listening). The university’s reputation matters to me (it’s where I work) but I’m even more concerned with a student potentially damaging their own reputation in front of future employers. (A student who tweets about boring lectures will probably also tweet about being bored at work – a no no in the workplace).

    I’ve been criticised for going public (on Twitter, to my face and I’m sure behind my back).

    The ripples continue. Just ten minutes ago a stranger mentioned me in this tweet:

    @behindthespin @hannahhh_w BANG out of order sir. I’m so glad I have proof of this! Stay out of your students lives!

    It’s a grey area. I’m criticised for poking my nose into other people’s business – and in turn feel criticised for doing my job.

    What are the lessons? I fear a generation that’s grown up with text messaging and Facebook thinks of Twitter as a private channel of communication – whereas I think of it as a public space.

    We all need to negotiate the boundaries between public and private – but in my view no one has to be on Twitter. If you want your conversations to be private, you should go elsewhere.

    This isn’t the ethical discussion you wanted, but to me it’s an important question for all PR students to address.

  2. Thank you very much for your comment Richard. This is an interesting issue to explore. I agree that Twitter is a public form of communication and it is far too easy to say something in the spur of the moment which you might regret later. In response to your question ‘what are the lessons?’ perhaps we can learn the ways in which social media turns ugly and what are the right and wrong ways we should use it within PR.

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