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Carla Buzasi

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The Week That Was: The Dark Side of Twitter

Posted: 06/05/2012 10:18

On Thursday, I came off air after half an hour on the Sky News sofa, to one marriage proposal and one admonishment telling me I was far too young to be doing my job, as I looked about 12 - both messages delivered via Twitter. (Plus, a text message from my husband telling me to stop using national TV to broadcast my love of Pinterest, it was becoming embarrassing.)

I laughed, fired off a few messages back, and then disappeared home to wipe off the six layers of TV-suitable, air-brushed foundation before bed.

Twitter, at its best, is a great way to massage your ego (ooh, 15 more followers!), or given my day job, chat with readers (they loved X feature on the site, they thought Y was dull, or words to that effect) and, as I wrote last week, to get breaking news out quickly.

At its worst, as Conservative MP Louise Mensch highlighted this week, it's a hot-bed of misogynistic idiots using it to abuse, scare and lambast women in the public eye in the crudest manner possible.

That isn't to say high-profile men don't get their fair share of 180-character flak, but I doubt many of them find it parcelled up in violent sexual threats the way Mensch and others like her have.

Since making the hate-Tweets she's received public (head to her Twitter handle and check out those she's favourited, if your jaw doesn't drop in horror, you're a more cynical person than I am), Mensch has put Twitter trolling firmly on the agenda, and not only received widespread, cross-party sympathy, but given licence to hundreds of other women to admit they're suffering, too.

Laurie Penny, in the brilliantly titled 'A Women's Opinion Is the Miniskirt of the Internet' recalls the rape threats and worse she is subjected to on an almost daily basis and states brilliantly and succinctly that, "Free speech means being free to use technology and participate in public life without fear of abuse."

So, how do we stop it? The police have offered to intervene and believe Louise Mensch has a case to bring some of her more extreme followers to justice. As illustrated earlier this year in the case of the student locked up for racist Tweets against Fabrice Muamba, the courts certainly aren't afraid of making an example of someone in the hope it will make others think twice before they type.

That's all well and good, but we probably don't have enough jail cells in the UK to deal with this plague of sickness and I'd bet most of us would prefer the police were out hunting down the actual rapists and murderers, rather than the cowards Tweeting toxic suggestions and threats in the same vein.

I think embarrassment and very public outrage is the way to go. You might be able to hide behind your @tag, but turning the tables, a la Mensch, and showcasing the abuse and individuals behind it is an empowering step in the right direction.

Why? Because this isn't just about Twitter. It's about anyone believing they have the right to target focused abuse at women simply because they're female and they don't agree with their point of view.

"It is time for more men to speak out about the continuing scourge of sexism," Owen Jones wrote earlier this week for The Independent. "Men need to be far more vocal allies of a feminist movement that has a long way to go."

Whether it is men or women fighting this online outrage, or a Tweet-deck-sharing partnership of the two, what's clear is that it needs to be done as explicitly and openly as those who started it in the first place.

 

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