Sunday, September 30, 2012

Sometimes I Just Don't Understand People

Let's say you're bored at home on a Saturday night.  What's the first thing that comes to mind that you could do to entertain yourself?  If it's not "attack someone on the internet" then congratulations, you're not a dickhead.

A good friend of mine, the fabulous Fat Heffalump, was subjected to a dickhead attack last night.  Someone created a fake account on Twitter that is similar to her Twitter name, used a photo of her without her permission, wrote a hateful personal bio, and linked the account website to the "thinspiration" tag on Tumblr. Then spent their evening replying to everything the real Fat Heffalump tweeted with abusive messages.  To get this abusive account removed as an impersonation, she has to send Twitter a copy of her passport to prove she is the real person.  Her friends and supporters can't even report the account as an impersonation because the report has to come from the person being impersonated.  The best I can do is report them as spam.

The media in Oz recently shone a spotlight on trolls and online abuse in the wake of the Charlotte Dawson incident.  I'm not going to go into that in-depth here (and I only reluctantly link to that article - I disagree with the Laurel Papworth commentary), but some good points were raised about how social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr need to take more responsibility for their content.  They have hid behind the "We don't create the content" shield for too long.

This is a tricky topic for me, and I'm sure for many other people.  I'm anti-censorship and pro-freedom of speech, anti-regulation and pro-personal responsibility.  Where do you draw the line?  Who decides what is offensive?  It's a fine line and I'm still not convinced that censorship is the way to go.  The better solution, the grander solution I suppose, is societal change.  Social media has given people a platform to publicly say things directly to their target instead of just hurling abuse at their TV, while still being anonymous and in the safety of their own home.  For them, there are no repercussions.  There is no friend saying "dude, not cool."  They don't see what happens to the person they are abusing.  And when they see articles in the media saying that the target of their abuse deserved it because she's not a nice person anyway, that their abuse doesn't matter because their target can choose whether or not to be offended, that the victims of abuse should just follow the old adage of "don't feed the trolls" - they're not getting the message that what they are doing is wrong, are they? They're being told what they are doing is just fine, and that it's the victim's problem if she can't handle it!  (I say "she" because it's overwhelmingly women who are targets of this sort of abuse, and I'm not trying to sideline the men here - I know this happens to men too, but it's certainly more prevalent for women.)

This isn't good enough.  Everyone - me, you, the media, everyone - needs to stand up and say "dude, not cool".  Online abuse is never okay.  It baffles me that people can't think of anything better to do with their spare time than systematically abuse someone simply for who they are.  There are much better ways to spend your time, people.  Why don't you try enriching your own life instead of throwing someone else's life in a hole?

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