Taming Twitter Trolls
I follow a number of Muslims on Twitter, because we need to understand more than the tabloid toss that Muslim is a synonym for terrorist.
@TellMamaUK is an excellent and informative account that monitors religious hate-crimes. Recently it’s been stepping up its rhetoric against Twitter and Facebook over their failure to delete offensive tweets and status updates, and to ban the users that post them.
The tweets that @TellMamaUK (and many others) complain about are odious. But most of them are also, frankly, laughable. It’s OK for me as a middle-class white male; I might find them less laughable if the rape and murder threats were directed against me, although I like to think I wouldn’t. There was a twitter-storm last year about similar threats directed against prominent women; and there’s also the whole #GamerGate business. Twitter trolls are everywhere, and most of them are unpleasant. Pathetic, sick individuals who are best ignored. Apparently there are people on Twitter who support the rapist Ched Evans, a man so vile he doesn’t even accept that what he admits to having done (had sex with a nineteen year old girl who was too drunk to consent) is rape. I don’t follow them. Someone so stupid is unlikely to be capable of anything witty or informative, and I don’t want my timeline full of rubbish. They are the sort of people who will pick me up with, “Yes if Muslims are so great and rapists are so bad what about ISIS”. The kind of moronic argument I really don’t want to waste my time with. Ched Evans using lad-values and a mullah approving child-sex within marriage today because the Prophet married Abu-Bakr’s child Aisha when she was only nine are equally disgusting.
I only ever see the offensive islamophobic tweets because they get quoted by @TellMamaUK. I only got to hear about GamerGate on Twitter because I was seeing the other side of the argument in tweets by the smart, witty people I do follow.
I’m sure that Twitter and Facebook aren’t taking anti-Muslim bigotry seriously, but I’m not sure that tweet-deletion and user-banning is necessarily the right way to deal with it. Restricting speech, even vile, moronic hate-speech, is something we should only ever do in extremis. It drives it underground; we end up relying on private corporations to police what is acceptable. That’s not OK. These social media companies are responsible, not to the public, not even to their users, but to their shareholders and thus, their advertisers who mostly pay for the service. It’s certainly not inconceivable that they might decide that their best interests lay in censoring not the hate-speech but the whistle-blowers, the likes of @TellMamaUK. Whats good for the goose is good for the gander….
So what do we do? The odious islamophobes and rape-apologists represent some pretty unpleasant values in our society, values we need to challenge. We need to give the victims the tools to deal with the threats; the police should take actual threats much more seriously. (although we also need a good way of detecting jokes: remember #TwitterJokeTrial). It’s very unlikely that any of the rape-threats are intended to be followed-up; but that makes them no less terrifying for the victim.
The best free-speech tools to deal with hate-speech are exposure, ridicule and ignorance. Expose, ridicule, ignore. The BNP was destroyed by the BBC inviting Nick Griffin onto Question Time (a strategy that hasn’t, unfortunately, yet worked for UKIP).
Hate-speech is a symptom of a broken society; it’s not the disease. Hate-speech from morons is best simply blocked or ignored; hate-speech from smarter people must be challenged.
It is a matter of jihad. We are all mujahideen in the struggle for decent, open values against bigotry and prejudice. In this jihad, I am firmly with @TellMamaUK, and proud to be an SJW in the jihad against #gamergate.