The fundamental problem with Twitter is that it doesn’t give victims of abuse effective tools to fight the trolls. Sure, it is still trying to work out how to persuade people to sign up and help them understand what to do with Twitter but the lack of effective tools to fight abuse is eroding the service from within.
You probably heard about the troll who was banned from Twitter after leading vicious and vindictive attacks on Leslie Jones. She left Twitter for a short while and tweeted this:
I leave Twitter tonight with tears and a very sad heart.All this cause I did a movie.You can hate the movie but the shit I got today…wrong
— Leslie Jones (@Lesdoggg) July 19, 2016
This morning I was going through my Twitter feed and I saw these tweets from Jessica Valenti. Same issue:
In the meantime, I'm taking a break from social media. I don't know how long. I just know that I can't live like this. It's too much.
— Jessica Valenti (@JessicaValenti) July 27, 2016
“Leaving social media” has become a euphemism for “stop using Twitter because I don’t have an effective way to fight trolls and monsters who use it to terrorise me”. As a relatively unknown man, I haven’t been exposed to the bile that high profile women are often exposed to.
I believe that Twitter is important to protect free expression but that free expression must be deserving of protection. Gleeful and malicious attacks on women and threats of violence to children are not forms of expression that deserve protection.
Mike Elgan, Jeff Jarvis, Stacey Higginbotham and Leo Laporte discussed this issue on This Week in Google recently and Elgan had a suggestion for how Twitter could help stop trolls. It is an interesting discussion. This video should pick up a few minutes into the discussion (about 45 minutes and 20 seconds):
Protecting free expression is difficult because when you create tools to protect activists, you also enable trolls to take advantage of those tools. I don’t know what the solution is but every time a person “takes a break from social media” because the abuse was just too much, Twitter has failed profoundly.