Written by P. Humbargar
The problem of cyberbullying is once again making headlines—and this time it has made the global news, as Olympic athletes currently competing in Great Britain have become victims. Specifically, several athletes have been targeted by a type of cyberbully known as a “Twitter troll”—a person who posts inflammatory or off-topic messages on Twitter with the intent of provoking an emotional response.
This past week, a 17-year-old was arrested on suspicion of “malicious communication” (a crime in Great Britain) for Tweets sent to British diver Tom Daley. One of the suspect’s Tweets said that Daley had let down his deceased father since he didn’t get a medal; and a later Tweet of his said that he would find him (Tom) and drown him.
Earlier, British weightlifter Zoe Smith was also victimized by Twitter trolls; though not always a good idea, she struck back with her own Tweets in an attempt to expose and shame them.
Other athletes and well-known personalities have chosen to quit Twitter after receiving messages from these anonymous internet trolls.
Although the vast majority of Tweets are not in any way abusive, it often takes only one malicious post to cause a great deal of disruption and hurt. Sadly, the old saying that “one rotten apple spoils the barrel” is as true in today’s cyberworld as it was generations ago.
At the time of the 2008 Beijing Olympics, there were only two million registered Twitter users; today, there are over 140 million active users, and over 400 million Tweets per day. With such an astonishing increase in Tweeting, it is to be expected that the problems created by abusive Twitter trolls will continue to grow as time goes on.
A Twitter spokesperson responded to the recent abusive messages sent to Olympic athletes by saying that they don’t monitor the content users post, but that they will evaluate any abuse reported and take appropriate action if the abuse violates Twitter’s terms of service.
Cases where Twitter will take action and suspend or terminate a user’s account are quite limited in scope. There are actually few limitations on the content that can be published on Twitter. Complex freedom of speech issues are obviously involved, and Twitter will thus not censor content or mediate disputes between users.
Although we hate to see our Olympic athletes targeted by Twitter trolls, the problem is much more pervasive and close to home than the Olympic games—it’s in our own backyard—as it’s our children who are often being victimized. As parents, and as society as a whole, it is up to us to address the growing problem of cyberbullying, whether it be on Twitter or on other online forums.
The cyberworld is a huge and growing part of our children’s lives, and in order to protect them, we need to take their online relationships seriously. One of the best things we can do to protect our kids from those who bully and prey upon them is to stay up-to-date with this new world they live in. We need to understand how to recognize cyberbullying and know what to do if we suspect a child is being victimized. Numerous online anti-bullying resources are available; for a good place to start, visit TeenCentral.Net/bully or Project Anti Bully.
Also, although Twitter, as mentioned before, will not get involved in disputes over content, it offers suggestions on what to do if a user encounters what could be deemed abusive behavior.
Some suggestions Twitter offers include the following:
- If you see a post that is upsetting, step back and consider the larger conversation it may be connected to since tweets can be confusing when taken out of context.
- Think before you tweet, as fighting fire with fire can often reinforce bad behavior.
- Simply block the abusive user, and end the offensive communication. (Instructions on how to block a user are available at Twitter.com.)
- Turn to family and friends for support and advice.
- If you believe the communication is in violation of Twitter rules and user agreement, report it to Twitter.
- If you believe you have received a credible threat, report it to local law enforcement.
- If you think you may have a legal issue, contact a lawyer.
Hopefully the world-wide attention our Olympic athletes have attracted due to their being victims of cyberbullying will be a wake-up call. The problem exists—our own children may be victims—and as parents and responsible adults, we need to know how to deal with it.
What would you do if you suspect a Twitter troll? Share your advice in the comments section.