Is this the real life, or is this just Twitter?
It seems not a week goes by without some news story involving Twitter abuse, just last week we had national coverage of a few stupid and offensive tweets sent to British Olympic diver Tom Daley. Now Twitter abuse has claimed another victim as Blue Peter presenter Helen Skelton closed her Twitter account as a reaction to abuse sent to her on the social networking site.
Skelton admitted to not having ‘a very thick skin after all’, and decided that continuing a Twitter account was a form of masochism she couldn’t deal with. The content of the abuse is uncertain, but it is alleged that abuse and criticism increased as her involvement with the BBC Olympic coverage began. Whatever her flaws as an Olympics presenter and whatever the content of the tweets against her were, she has made the right decision for herself – she couldn’t hack the negative aspects of Twitter and came off the site.
However, plenty of ink has been spilt in the press and in digital form on Twitter on famous people complaining about the torrent of abuse they receive. Kirstie Allsop was in the news recently after moaning about and reporting two teenage girls for ‘bullying’ her online. Quite how a rich, influential and famous television personality can be bullied by two young nobodies is anyone’s guess.
It seems ‘celebrity’ Twitter users are genuinely surprised that the internet, which has been home to dark and offensive people and material for 20 years, would also manifest itself through Twitter. Perhaps those celebrities targeted for abuse had no knowledge of exactly what is possible on the internet before Twitter arrived. Maybe they failed to Google their name and see exactly what people could think of them.
But it’s true that Twitter takes things to another level. Twitter is almost custom designed for abuse, flaming and trolling. The fact each tweet is only 140 characters long means that it is much more likely that childish name-calling is going to be the primary method of engaging with a user than a sustained critical argument. The alleged ‘prank’ tweet involving Port Talbot Town FC’s midfielder, Daniel Thomas and diver Tom Daley, exemplifies the way Twitter is conceived by many people: it is a nonsensical forum, where dubious pranks and ‘jokes’ are commonplace, a site which is not to be taken seriously.
Furthermore it is a globalised network that allows anyone around the world to fire off a tweet at anyone else. Distance and relative anonymity of the internet has been a key feature since the web began, but with the invention of Twitter people are themselves opening a door of communication with anyone who wanders by. With both factors in mind, can anyone seriously claim not to have expected to be abused on Twitter?
The web, like fame, has its benefits and negative aspects and in each case both are two sides of the same coin. It is a fantastic invention where access to information and people around the world is near infinite, but with that comes with the freedom to access and communicate with the darker things in life. Fame has its obvious benefits in the form of influence, importance and money but comes with the price of public exposure of humiliating aspects of your life and character. So combining fame with Twitter allows a person to increase their profile and gain the benefits of increased exposure. But, equally, it comes with the price of allowing anyone to criticise and abuse you directly, one cannot exist without the other.
The furore over threats of violence should be put into several contextual boxes. Firstly, it is Twitter. It is not a serious or important forum for communication. Most tweets are usually witty comments or inane chatter about what film someone saw. People do not do or explain important things on the site; it is an impossible medium for that. The best they can do is link to something more profound. Secondly, a Twitter account is a public profile, it is not your personal or professional email address or your private Facebook account or where you live, anyone can reach you on it. Thirdly threats of violence are often cartoonish in character, they are the rage-filled fantasies of someone lame enough to want to imagine a hypothetical situation and actually spend time tweeting it. Making a threat of violence to anyone on Twitter is obnoxious and offensive but it is hardly a cause for concern. The threat makers invariably lack the tools and motivation to carry out their childish threats, they don’t even know where their targets of abuse live, and all they know is how to find their very public Twitter account.
There are plenty of tools for people to utilise in dealing with abuse without resorting to the police, who should be dealing with real issues and not ridiculous nonsense about people’s feelings. Childish and offensive people have always existed on the internet; they are a fact of life online, and without resorting to draconian measures to deal with this non-problem people need to learn to live with it. The great thing about the web is that you get what you give out; the teenager who abused Tom Daley found that out when Daley’s followers turned their abuse onto him after a re-tweet of his obnoxious abuse. If anyone tweets a view on something it is by definition asking for engagement, you cannot then decide how other people respond to it. Either you use Twitter, warts and all, or you don’t have a Twitter account. It is too much of a simple and absurd issue to take seriously: it is not real life, it is just Twitter.
The Independent Online is partnering with the Battle of Ideas festival to present a series of guest blogs from festival speakers on the key questions of our time.Tagged in: Celebrity, Helen Skelton, internet, Tom Daley, twitter abuse
Recent Posts on Notebook
- Justice for sale but who pays for the cost?
- The Road to the Ultra-Trail du Mont Blanc - Majorca 70.3 Ironman
- The Retail Ready People project means the future of the high street is in your hands
- Don't get mad about Amazon and make the right ethical choice
- Chagos: Conservationists are swimming in murky waters
Latest from Independent journalists on Twitter