Jane Austen, rape and Twitter….
Let me start by saying that I think that Jane Austen is a barely-acceptable choice to replace Darwin on the back of the tenner. It should have been Emmeline Pankhurst.
The abuse heaped on Miss Austen’s champion via Twitter is however despicable.
The question becomes how do we police social media? Does Twitter need a “report abuse” button? I can’t help thinking that it would have many undesirable unintended consequences. It will just become another weapon in the troll’s armoury.
But I do have a better answer than any I have heard on any of the endless expert discussions on the subject.
Twitter already has a system of “verified accounts”. They’re mainly available to celebrities, so you get to know that it’s the real person tweeting (or their official PR office….). These need to be made the norm. Not compulsory, but the norm. That is, when signing up for Twitter, you get a verified Twitter account if you go through a few extra steps to verify your identity to Twitter and thus lose your anonymity.
The next thing there needs to be is a “block all anonymous accounts” setting. Again, optional. So Caroline Criado-Perez would – at the first hint of abuse, if not before – activate the block. Then, the only abuse that could get through would be from verified accounts. Since the abusers are pathetic cowards, it’s most unlikely that they would want their real-life names associated with their nasty little games. And, if they did, since their threats are illegal in any case, it’s straightforward to police when it comes from a verified source.
Crucially, however, you don’t cut off anonymity entirely. Anonymity is important to help the voice of oppressed people be heard. Not everyone will block all anonymous tweets; some people will play a crucial role in re-tweeting the anonymous tweets that need to be heard. But the retweeters don’t retweet anonymously. I’d retweet a tweet from someone in Syria or Turkmenistan or China or Zimbabwe about their political repression; I’m safe here from their oppressors and by retweeting I give some credibility to their position. Not much, but some. And should anyone choose to retweet an offensive tweet from one of the childish young men who seem to revel in this sort of thing, they bear the responsibility for retweeting.
So we come to value tweets that are retweeted by trusted and identified real people, and generally to disregard – if not actually block – anonymous tweets.
This makes the Twitterati responsible for policing Twitter – so that they become an active filter or gateway. No need for complex technical solutions or armies of staff in Twitter HQ trying to decide which tweet is offensive and which isn’t – a value judgement that will in any case vary according to local standards.