My relationship to Internet trolls/unidentified pranksters is a colourful one. Rather than receiving abusive tweets (I'm a nobody), I am the lucky subject of a systematic prank-calling initiative. At first I considered it flattery on some level, now its just incredibly obtrusive. Although unperturbed by the cackles of laughter or occasional threat, should I ever find out who the culprits are... Heaven help them.
But what can the law do for us? There are legislations in place to deal with malicious correspondence, yet realms such as twitter represent new territory. Whether such statutes can stretch wide enough is up for debate, all many of us can do is speculate as to what should be done.
Last week a public school boy from Cheshire was named and shamed for his twitter trolling. Oliver Rawlings had sent Cambridge professor Mary Beard vile and abusive tweets. However, beyond a slap on the wrist, what should be done, and what impact, if any, does the culprit's age have? Oliver Rawlings is twenty years of age, surely he knows better. Or ought to.
Yet in this particular case, my gut tells us to forgive, forget and move on. He was stupid, really stupid. My concerns lie with the more dangerous tweets or forms of digital correspondence. Just how much does the notion of free speech encapsulate? The web serves as the greatest public sphere ever created. Naturally, it will attract the dregs of society and their morally bankrupt sets of values. However, it is only when these are thrust upon people, under the thick veil of anonymity, that free speech becomes an issue.
No doubt twitter can assist the police in locating trolls, through the identification of IP addresses. Yet getting such a huge company to cooperate on such localized issues is a cumbersome procedure. By the time an address has been secured, the culprit could be living elsewhere. Surely, one possible way around the saga would be to verify every twitter account. This could be done by keeping bankcard details of each user. A refundable one pound/dollar deposit could be drawn. There we have it- an incredibly valuable pool of information; amassed from the millions of twitter users.
Assuming we can identify trolls effectively, the question remains as to what fate should befall them? Well, if it were up to me (which for your sake be thankful it isn't), severe Internet trolls would spend an arbitrary amount of time behind bars. I believe trolling to be that serious an offence. If it doesn't legitimately endanger people's lives, then it weakens their mental state and confidence. It is the twentieth century means of stalking, an offence traditionally dealt with firmly through the implementation of restraining orders.
It should be noted at this point that twitter is already home to the most organic form of self-regulation. The vast majority of the using public rally around to condemn those who abuse their anonymity. In many ways, a very public trial takes place; notwithstanding the fact the culprit remains anonymous. Further proof that Twitter remains a marvelous circle of communication, binding the common man to his fellow citizen. Let us punish those who ruin it, or at least grant ourselves the means of determining their identities.