Saturday, 3 August 2013

Threat Or Tweet? How To Sober The Bullying Kids Behind Their Scary Masks

There's a new campaign petition up on (Indeed, there's a new one every few days and I have begun to suffer campaign fatigue. However, this one got me to sit up again.) I'd encourage people to pop over to the site by clicking on the link, and see the kinds of scary messages that are being sent to women. I would be absolutely unnerved if someone sent me such messages.

This campaign is about getting Twitter to adopt a less laissez-faire approach to online bullies threatening female users of the service with rape. Now, I'm a strong supporter of free speech, so I would be uncomfortable asking Twitter to shut down the accounts of those making these offensive tweets or even censoring the offending messages.

Thinking about the problem and my own ideological constraints made me realise that what gives these bullies their courage is their relative anonymity. They can threaten other people from the anonymity of their dens, secure in the knowledge that their right to free speech is protected. Ironically enough, it's free speech that can get them to mind what they say.

I think Twitter should have a simple policy that says anyone making threats of violence against others will have their personal details revealed on a public website along with the details of what they said and when. If law enforcement in their jurisdiction viewed such messages as a crime, then they would have to deal with the consequences of that.

I'd go even further and say that the police should include such a website as a source of rape suspects whenever a rape takes place. All the Twitter offenders in the vicinity should be taken in for questioning as a matter of course. Once someone has threatened rape, they should legitimately be considered a suspect in any future rape case in their vicinity. Hoist them with their own petard.

The sheer inconvenience and social ignominy of being escorted to the local station every time there is a rape should gradually discourage anyone else who thinks this is something they can engage in with impunity.

The police could even offer to stop rounding these people up every time if they would consent to leaving behind a DNA sample. Purely voluntary, of course. The checking would still take place every time a rape occurred, but they wouldn't have to personally visit the station.

In short, society needs to take the same approach to these, er, twits that it takes towards the raising of children. The mature approach is not to forbid behaviour but to acquaint misbehaving children with the consequences of their actions.

The consequences of sending threatening messages can be demonstrated quite effectively while ensuring that all counter-measures are legally justifiable.

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