Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Just what IS acceptable online behaviour?

So here's a piece of information that will shock precisely nobody who has ever read this blog:  I don't like 50 shades of Grey.  In fact, I will actually use the word hate to describe my feelings for it.  It'll probably shock precisely nobody to discover that I'm quite vocal about my feelings, either.  And I'm aware that being a mouthy sod can get you into trouble.  BUT...

I like big buts and I cannot lie...
...The one thing I try very hard to avoid, is falling into nastiness.  I don't argue pointlessly, unless I'm especially drunk or blinded by rage.  What I NEVER do, is threaten people.  Because let me say this loud and clear: I might not be perfect - far from it - but I cannot abide bullying.  I'm not a bully (in spite of the fact that people with no back-up to their arguments sometimes like to throw the comment out in the hope it'll detract from their own unnecessary nastiness) and I dislike anyone who is.
So... When I argue that 50 Shades not only normalises, but romanticises abuse, I do so passionately, but ultimately fairly.  I use facts wherever possible (quotes from the books and facts about different forms of abuse etc), I've never been blocked by EL James for being rude or impolite (she blocked me for asking her if she'd consider donating to an abuse charity, but that's another subject...) and I try very hard not to resort to swearing.  At least not too often...
Unfortunately, however, the same can't be said for some of the 50 Shades fans I've come into contact with. 
I can't even begin to tell you how WRONG this mug is...
You see, some (NOT ALL) of the people who agree with the message on that mug above, take their passion for the books a little too far.  Maybe they just love Mr Grey so much, they're blinded.  Or maybe they're just idiots.  You decide.  Here is a selection of some of the things I've had said to me on Twitter since I got involved in raising awareness of the abuse glorified in these books:
"If your ex was really like Christian Grey, you're obviously just not good enough for him.  LOL."
"Fuck off, you pathetic bitch.  You don't even understand BDSM!"
(DISCLAIMER: I have NEVER suggested that BDSM is abuse, but thanks for your ignorance!)
"LOL, pathetic.  Someone needs Mr Grey's twitching palm to sort her the fuck out."
Depressingly, not one of those tweets (and there were many more like them) was even attempting to start a discussion.  Not one was particularly civil.  But none frightened me.  None really upset me for long.
Then along came someone a little different.  Someone who took her obsession with being right about these books too far.  Someone who, in a worryingly common incident these days, decided that offensive language and threats of violence were the way forwards.
When a friend, @sageling, tweeted back to her, trying to defend the viewpoint that the books glamorise abuse, she told him to stop talking like that "for your own safety."  Thus implying that if he didn't stop, something bad would happen.
When she believed he'd misquoted or misunderstood her, she replied: "Stop twisting my words or I'll twist your neck." 
Later, when I - calmly and rationally - explained that when you've experienced abuse, you see it where perhaps others can't, she told me: "Like I give a flying fuck what you've experienced.  Hit the bricks, bitch."
But they've done nothing to deserve it!
Now, I like to think I can let a lot go over my head.  But in my eyes, this was threatening behaviour, pure and simple.  Threats of violence shouldn't simply be ignored, as far as I'm concerned.  So I - and others - reported this particular person to Twitter.
This whole thing happened at least a month ago.  This morning, I finally had a reply.  And it said:
"While we understand your frustration, the reported behaviour is not in violation of the Twitter Rules... As a policy, we do not mediate content and we do not intervene in disputes between users. This means that users are allowed to post potentially inflammatory content, provided that they do not violate the Twitter Rules."
All of which is rather interesting, seeing as the Twitter rules state:
"Violence and Threats: You may not publish or post direct, specific threats of violence against others."

"Stop twisting my words or I'll twist your neck."
"For your own safety... Stop talking about this."
Call me mad, but... Am I alone in seeing a specific threat of violence, there?!
I would possibly expect such a "oh please don't get me involved, I'm not bothered" reaction from a small Internet group or forum.  Usually in those situations, those moderating the site aren't paid to do so and often cliques form.  Nobody wants to the bad guy when you're talking about a small, tightly knit Internet community. 
But Twitter isn't a small, tightly knit Internet community.  Yes, there are Twitter-cliques.  Yes, there are people who've formed close friendships through the network.  But Twitter is a site with millions of users.  Twitter makes millions.  Its 2012 projection was a whopping $260million.
Before I go on, let me explain that I am aware that having so many users makes it almost impossible to moderate what happens on a site like Twitter.  But that's why the system for reporting users exists.  When someone feels that they're being abused, bullied or threatened, there has to be a way for that person to access support.  To be on the receiving end of nastiness is bad enough, but to be told that no rules have been broken (in spite of the blatant breaking of the "no threatening violence" rule) simply makes the person receiving such vile tweets feel as though nobody is on their side.
I'm a big girl.  The Internet has dealt me far worse before and I'm sure it'll continue to do so. But what if I wasn't a 30yr old, who can probably push aside this sort of thing without too much worry?  What if I were a 12 year old girl, taking those threats seriously?  The emotional effect it could have on a younger, less savvy user, doesn't bear thinking about.
Yes, you can click the "block" button.  Lord knows, I've been pretty "block-happy" of late.  But the "hit the bricks, bitch" tweet actually managed to get through to me after I had blocked this particular user.  And, although it wasn't the case in this incident, who's to say the user wouldn't get their friends involved?  Again, imagine I was a younger, more naive Twitter member, who was inundated with this sort of nastiness?!  And all we get from Twitter as a response is: "Well, I'm sure it must be frustrating."
In case you think I'm overreacting, let me throw an additional detail into the mix...
I mentioned that another Twitter user, by the name of @Sageling, had been on the receiving end of threats from this person.  He also reported her.
Why?  Because he was deemed to be "sending unsolicited messages" via the site.  What was he doing?  He was using the #50shadesisabuse hashtag to try to explain his views on the books.  People were arguing with him (in some cases, violently) and he was politely replying.
So, casually threatening to twist someone's neck because you disagree with their opinion is completely acceptable to Twitter.  To raise awareness of domestic abuse - calmly and rationally - is not.
I'm all for free speech.  I think it's important for us all to have a platform from which to have our views heard.  But when you are the organisation providing that platform, it's my belief that you have a duty of care to those who use it.  And frankly, total inaction when it comes to bullying and harassment shows a lack of care on Twitter's part.
Where do we draw the line?  Is bullying really any less vicious or affecting just because it comes from behind a screen?  I know from personal experience that that's not the case. 
The Internet is a wonderful thing, which is available almost anywhere these days.  But in some ways, when it comes to cyber bullying, that's a bad thing.  When you're bullied at school, or in the work place, home becomes your sanctuary.  You return to your safe place and you can finally try to put any nasty words or horrible actions out of your mind. 
With Internet bullying, the abuse is happening anywhere.  Your safe place disappears, because the Internet is in your home.  The Internet is in your bedroom.  Your personal space is invaded.  That makes cyber bullying just as dangerous as any other kind.
I run a group on Facebook.  I have a zero tolerance approach to bullying.  If I spot one user abusing another, they get a warning.  If they re-offend, they're banned.  Simple as that.
If we start from grass roots - the Facebook groups, the small Internet forums - then perhaps the larger social networking sites might follow.  Threatening violence is never acceptable.
I have replied to Twitter's email.
I await their response.

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