Should we take anti-social tweeps to task?

Should we take anti-social tweeps to task?

This post is written collaboratively between myself and Sue @BPDFFS, who has a diagnosis of borderline personality disorder (BPD) and works on a self-employed basis, for Sheffield Health and Social Care Foundation NHS Trust, providing training for staff about BPD and psycho education classes for people with a diagnosis of BPD. She also runs #BPDChat with @brokenmind_and @CarlDunnJr.

This blog came about as a result of a conversation we had about a recent incident when some tweeps observed what appeared to be grooming of vulnerable young women, affected by mental health problems, on Twitter.

This post isn’t about what did or didn’t actually happen, but more about our reaction to it and the questions it raised for us about how we should/shouldn’t respond to stuff that looks like anti-social or abusive behaviour online. We don’t have the answers ourselves but here are a few of our thoughts that we hope will spark a bit of a debate.

Legality – firstly we wondered what the legal position is in relation to this sort of inappropriate behaviour on Twitter . People have been charged by the police for racist tweets and Twitter is the perfect anti-alibi – it’s all there in the digital footprint. Case proven. We came across @CEOPUK which is the Child Exploitation Online Protection Centre. You have to dig about a bit but there is a section on their website for young people up to the age of 16, and parents, with advice about bullying and unwanted approaches online. You can report such behaviour to them direct.

Amplification – one way to expose an unpleasant tweet is to amplify it.  @stancollymore has re-tweeted racist comments. Many of his followers have responded by challenging the offending tweep. That way he doesn’t have to do anything more himself. It’s a bit like a wiki – someone puts something up that’s incorrect and others edit to remove or redefine. Might feel like a bit of a risk though if you are feeling vulnerable and it might take some guts to do.

Vigilance – so what’s our collective responsibility to be vigilant and support each other online? Should we DM tweeps to check they are okay if we are concerned about a tweet we see on our timeline? Or should we ignore it? That’s probably for each of us individually to make up our own mind about but worth thinking about how we look out for each other online.

Wading in – should we always wade and get involved openly online? We run the risk of (a) getting it wrong, or (b) the tweep going underground or wiping their account so their behaviour may continue but it’s not visible online any longer where it is at least public.  Perhaps keeping out of it directly and contacting an organisation like @CEOPUK  is an option.

Twitter – in a recent @guardian article about ‘twacists’, Twitter said it does not moderate or filter content on its site but says it has a set of rules intended to protect users and promote good behaviour. A spokeswoman said ‘Twitter is a neutral platform, but we have rules that outline what users can and can’t do. We do not pro-actively monitor content, but will review all reports of violations, and act on a case-by-case basis’. So reporting to Twitter is another option.

Block people – a bit obvious, but if it’s happening to us then we always have an option to block tweeps that offend, upset or irritate us.

Helping people stay safe – mental health services have a duty of care to help people using their services to be safe. That means staff need to have a familiarity with social media – helping people to think through how to navigate online as well as offline relationships and lives. This might include stuff like privacy settings and helping people think through what they choose to share about their lives. We have a way to go in ensuring workers are collectively up to speed.

Being lovely – this may sound a bit cheesy but remembering to put ourselves in other people’s shoes and treating each other well helps set a communal and reciprocal tone on Twitter and other social platforms.

What do you think? Do you know of any good resources or guidance that are already out there? Or the definitive legal position? Have you experienced anti-social tweeting yourself? Please do share your knowledge and challenges with us 🙂

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  1. Thanks for this! On the subject of a bullying or abusive tweet I find that responding in a neutral way, e.g. asking why they said what they said or just ignoring completely is the best way to deal. Reacting angrily in response just escalates the situation and promotes further negativity. If I see someone getting abuse I would DM rather than wade in as I feel wading in to a dispute again just inflames the situation. I think Twitter should have a better reporting system though that allows potentially dangerous situations to be investigated as a priority, e.g. suspected grooming, incitement of hate.

    • Hi there, Victoria here. Thank you for your comments. Really like your neutral approach – so easy to misunderstand things on Twitter and yes sometimes ignoring is definitely the best policy. I’ve gently challenged the odd comment that I felt uncomfortable with and had a positive response so it can definitely work.

  2. This is an important subject and relevant to free speech. I’ve had the nasty experience of a smear campaign against me in which links are tweeted to thousands to posts with my name on defaming me. My attempts to defend myself are framed as ‘harassment’.
    Should I walk away completely I would be forced to leave the whole campaigning area of interests I “share” with the defamers.
    I uphold freedom of speech but/and recognise that cyber-bullying can take many forms, many as yet not much documented. My approach is to follow the advice of WordPress who host the offending blog – ie to talk more and more about it, but this is hard. Some of the material is up to the level of hate-speech but I would require a US court order to have a chance of removing it – I am not in the US. Tricky matters indeed.
    I have written extensively on ANM and also on my blog: reputation destruction by cyber gangs is pretty easy to do, and hard to fight.

    • Thank you for raising the issue of free speech – I agree this is a really tricky area and I most definitely do not know the answers. Like you I support free speech and the boundaries become blurred when one person’s free speech compromises another’s. Also interested to hear how hard it was for you to get help to respond to the behaviours you were experiencing. Do you know if any legal cases that have been taken? I only know of ones in relation to racist bullying online.


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