in other online-abuse news (updated somewhat later on Monday)

(Ed. and then updated some more…  and a MORAL OF THE STORY added on Tuesday. The original version of this was <200 words’ worth of links. Sorry: I blame the pernicious influence of penis-enhancement spam. Subtle. Subliminal. Sublimated into words, given my unfortunate lack of male genitalia.)

In this case, serious trolling. (All references are to English law. But might be food for thought for other jurisdictions…)

The psychology behind this disturbing — and, it seems, escalating — phenomenon can be found in the term ‘troll’ itself, which is thought to derive from a fishing technique of slowly dragging a baited hook from a moving boat.

‘Trolls’ post inflammatory remarks on the internet (the metaphorical ‘bait’) to illicit a response from those they have abused (the metaphorical ‘fish’). They do it for the ‘LULZ’, or laughs, a variation of LOL (Laugh Out Loud).

In other words, their sociopathic behaviour is as much about manipulation and control as causing offence and distress. […]

It is an offence under Section 127 of the Communications Act 2003 punishable by up to six months in prison to send an electronic message that is ‘grossly offensive or of an indecent, obscene, or menacing character’.

Even though more than 3,000 people have been prosecuted over the past two years or so, the statistics cover all forms of electronic communication, including phone calls.

In reality, there have been few prosecutions for actual internet trolling. […]

Last Friday, at the height of the Twitter storm, Miss Caroline Criado-Perez went on the offensive herself. ‘Friendly reminder to sexist men of Twitter  . . . rogering of women online is taken as a threat by police,’ she tweeted. […]

That was from The Daily Mail. I know: from them? You know things are getting serious if the DM is getting serious.

And Jane Austen is serious business.

For those of you unaware of The Story, some links follow below and they may help. As will this, straight from the w banker’s horse’s mouth (image links to source):

bank of england jane austen

For others: facetiousness and flippancy, albeit lower forms of wit, can be of benefit in getting to grips with the nastier business of life. See for other examples: the darkest of dark humour, from Glasgow and Belfast to, well, the whole of Eastern Europe. And, here: the business of being a woman.

jane austen stamps

Jane Austen stamps (2013-02, The Royal Male); and yes, I bet that Jane Austen WOULD stamp, were she around right now.

Full article for our introductory BIG SCARY QUOTE: Paul Bracchi, “The women-hating Twitter trolls unmasked: From a respected military man to a former public schoolboy, men who anonymously spew out vile abuse online,” The Daily Mail (2013-08-02/03)

Claire Hardaker,  “What is turning so many young men into internet trolls?” The Observer (2013-08-03, c/o The Guardian online); note that yes, this does cover non-men and the non-young too; comments are, as ever, also worth reading … especially given the topic at hand…

See also, previously:

Apology and explanation: Originally, this middle section was just a reference to the Claire Hardaker piece in The Guardian. But then I went off and clicked on links, and on more links, and more. I was interested to see that this led to competing institutions and experts, one of them as it happened a woman. By “interested” I mean “there was a LOL,” when I found what looks most curiously like trolling experts trolling trolling experts, or whatever sort of infinite regression is going on there… Fortuitous happenstance; a happy accident that fits the subject-matter under discussion; ensuring that this post has, in a neat nifty double whammy, a nice mise en abyme at its structural mid-point and the compusory digression. (And no: not ironic. Don’t even think about suggesting the merest whiff of it. I shall get very upset and scream and scream and scream.)

Moving back out of that embedded digression of infinite regression:

twitter trolliday

a holiday and a day’s freedom away from trolls =
all praise to Caitlin Moran and exultation in the highest, for the creation of one of the best portmanteau words of the year

Maev Kennedy, “Mary Beard is latest woman to be sent bomb threat on Twitter,” The Guardian (2013-08-04):

The historian Mary Beard has become the latest woman to receive a tweeted bomb threat, sent on the eve of a boycott by many users of Twitter in protest at the site’s slow response to dealing with violent and obscene threats.

Although many users stayed off the site, the hashtags #Twittersilence and #connectwithrespect were trending. […]

The columnist Caitlin Moran tweeted: “To people saying they don’t want to do the #twittersilence – that’s fine. All may do as they please. I’m just … trying a thing” and on Twitlonger she amplified: [quoting directly here, rather than the Guardian excerpt]:

A brief post on tomorrow’s #twittersilence, on the 4th August, and why I’m doing it.

So look it’s not a HEAVY thing or an ANGRY thing. We don’t need to argue over it, or pick teams, or have a go at anyone who doesn’t want to do it. Everyone is free to do whatever they like with their Sunday. We should all be eeeeeeeeasy like Sunday morning. In towelling robes, eating toast, and reading the papers.

But August the 4th is International Friendship Day, and, personally, I wanted to do something symbolic on that day, in the spirit of international friendship. In the last few weeks, I’ve seen women on Twitter being run to exhaustion by the volume of anonymous rape and violence tweets they’ve received – so many that even just blocking them is a full time job. I’ve seen my friends’ Twitter bomb-threats ON THE NEWS. I’ve seen the messages escalate even AFTER someone’s been arrested. AFTER. And, obviously, it’s not just women. In the wake of this, we’re now talking about the problem of online abuse towards people for their religion, race, sexuality and physicality. Essentially the problems of the most nightmare playground ever have been given a jet-pack and a megaphone through the power of social networking.

And it made me sad that this was what people think Twitter is now. Because it’s not. Most people on here aren’t like this. Most people in the world aren’t like this. Most people want to use Twitter like some fabulous, 24/7 on-line Cheers, where you can always walk in and have a couple of people shout ‘Norm!’ Most people don’t think Twitter is a place to go around saying things you would never say at a party, or in an office, or to someone’s face. For most people, Twitter is joyous: it’s a little group of friends in your pocket; daily surprises; news from places you’ve never been; an overnight revolution; eyes in the place where tonight’s news will be broadcast from. And people spamming I love nyancat.

So yes. In the spirit of solidarity – to show what Twitter would be like if the trolls over-run this place, and drive anyone out who IS here in the spirit of glee – a 24 hour silence on Sunday 4th August. Midnight to midnight. The only thing we Tweet is the hashtag #twittersilence, which we leave like Zorro leaves his “Z” carved into the curtains. Or, more prosaically, like we leave a note for the milkman when we go on holiday. Do it if you want to. It’s a thing you can do if you like the idea.

On the other hand, other people have said, “Why should we be silenced? Let’s fill Twitter on that day with love and positivity, instead – spend all day Tweeting happy things.” And that’s a brilliant idea too. There’s LOADS of brilliant ideas in the world. I’m in favour of ALL the ones that are about joy. Everyone can do their thing. This is just the thing I thought of. I just wanted to do a thing.

c xxxx

Longer piece I wrote about this here:

Ben Quin, “Twitter bomb threats made against more women in public eye: Journalists India Knight and Laurie Penny latest to get death threats as police respond to online abuse,” The Guardian (2013-08-05), c/o which:

Screen Shot 2013-08-05 at 1.36.36 PM

Comments on comments on comments in comments, etc… as there remain, of course, grey areas (even on such a nice clear bright glorious summer day), open questions, and blurred lines:

1. What are the limits to free speech and tolerance?

Bearing in mind, as Caitlin Moran puts it succinctly:

There is no such thing as “freedom of speech” in this country. Since 1998, we’ve had Article 10 of the European Convention on “freedom of expression”, but that still outlaws – amongst many things – obscenity, sedition, glorifying terrorism, incitement of racial hatred, sending articles which are indecent or grossly offensive with an intent to cause anxiety or distress, and threatening, abusive or insulting words like to cause harassment, alarm or distress.

As you can see, if you are suggesting that you are allowed to threaten someone on Twitter with rape or death under “freedom of speech”, then you do not – as predicted – have any idea what “freedom of speech” means. Because it’s prosecutable.

2. Should online speech be treated the same as telephones or writing?
—or the same as direct speech, person to person?
—is a threat always a threat, no matter how unlikely it might be that it was then followed up (with increasing likeliness simply being an aggravating factor)?

Here, for example, are some pertinent excerpts from the updated Twitter rules:

Our goal is to provide a service that allows you to discover and receive content from sources that interest you as well as to share your content with others. We respect the ownership of the content that users share and each user is responsible for the content he or she provides. Because of these principles, we do not actively monitor and will not censor user content, except in limited circumstances described below.

Content Boundaries and Use of Twitter

In order to provide the Twitter service and the ability to communicate and stay connected with others, there are some limitations on the type of content that can be published with Twitter. These limitations comply with legal requirements and make Twitter a better experience for all. We may need to change these rules from time to time and reserve the right to do so. Please check back here to see the latest.

  • Private information: You may not publish or post other people’s private and confidential information, such as credit card numbers, street address or Social Security/National Identity numbers, without their express authorization and permission.
  • Violence and Threats: You may not publish or post direct, specific threats of violence against others.
  • Unlawful Use: You may not use our service for any unlawful purposes or in furtherance of illegal activities. International users agree to comply with all local laws regarding online conduct and acceptable content.

Abuse and Spam

Twitter strives to protect its users from abuse and spam. User abuse and technical abuse are not tolerated on, and may result in permanent suspension. Any accounts engaging in the activities specified below may be subject to permanent suspension.

  • Targeted Abuse: You may not engage in targeted abuse or harassment. Some of the factors that we take into account when determining what conduct is considered to be targeted abuse or harassment are:
    • if you are sending messages to a user from multiple accounts;
    • if the sole purpose of your account is to send abusive messages to others;
    • if the reported behavior is one-sided or includes threats

Your account may be suspended for Terms of Service violations if any of the above is true. Please see our help pages on Following rules and best practices and Automation rules and best practices for a more detailed discussion of how the Rules apply to those particular account behaviors. Accounts created to replace suspended accounts will be permanently suspended.

Accounts engaging in any of these behaviors may be investigated for abuse. Accounts under investigation may be removed from Search for quality. Twitter reserves the right to immediately terminate your account without further notice in the event that, in its judgment, you violate these Rules or the Terms of Service.

We may revise these Rules from time to time; the most current version will always be at

From Twitter’s Abusive Behaviour Policy:

Offensive content

Users are allowed to post content, including potentially inflammatory content, provided they do not violate the Twitter Terms of Service and Rules. Twitter does not screen content and we do not remove potentially offensive content unless such content is a violation of our Terms of Service.

If you believe the content or behavior you are reporting is prohibited in your local jurisdiction, please contact your local authorities so they can accurately assess the content or behavior for possible violations of local law. If Twitter is contacted directly by law enforcement, we can work with them and provide assistance for their investigation as well as guidance around possible options. You can point local law enforcement to our Law Enforcement Guidelines.

For Frequently Asked Questions about reporting abusive behavior on Twitter, click here.

To learn more about what you can do when you encounter abusive behavior on Twitter and other websites, click here.

Twitter > Online safety > Abusive behaviour (some parts have been expanded, others not; aclick links for more…):

Abusive behavior encompasses many different situations–for example, having an argument with someone else on Twitter or discovering that someone you’re following is Tweeting things you find very offensive.

We hope the resources on this page will help you successfully navigate the conflicts you may experience on Twitter, and that the tips below offer helpful solutions.

What you can do:

  • Understand Twitter
  • Consider the context
  • Think before you Tweet
    When you find yourself in a dispute, stop and think about what effect your next Tweet might have. In these moments, ask yourself, “Is this worth it?” or “What do I gain if I continue to engage in this conflict?” While this is much easier said than done, acknowledging harassment by fighting fire with fire can reinforce bad behavior and may encourage the other person to continue their aggressive behavior.
  • Block and ignore
    When you receive unwanted communication from another Twitter user, it is recommend that you block the user and end any communication. Specifically this will prevent that person from following or replying to you. Abusive users often lose interest once they realize that you will not respond.

When it has gone too far:
While it is tempting to respond back to messages in anger, focusing on calm discussion or refusing to argue is a better response. However, there are some situations where more action may be necessary. The rest of the tips in this section offer some suggestions for where to go to get help.

  • Reach out to the people you trust
  • Report a violation
  • Contact local law enforcement or legal representation
    Twitter will investigate every report received, but if something has gone beyond the point of a personal conflict and has turned into credible threats, whether it be online or offline, you should contact your local authorities as they are in the best position to assess the threat and intervene or assist as necessary.If contacted by law enforcement directly, we can work with them and provide the necessary information for their investigation of your issue. You can point local law enforcement to our Guidelines for Law Enforcement.Likewise, if you feel your online dispute is legal in nature, please seek advice from a lawyer. Twitter cannot offer any legal advice, nor can we provide other users’ information except as required by valid legal process.

3. Does the distance (from the IRL material world) of imagination, fantasy, fiction, or jokes make a difference?
—should those sorts of speech be treated differently, and protected?
—does the identify of the speaker (ex. gender, professional comedian) make a difference?
—how about the circumstances and context (ex. public performance, private off-the-cuff offhand remark, drunken tweet)?
—do they need to wave a flag / flag themselves up with scare quotes or the punctus percontativus or similar?

4. How about that other imaginative side, the “what if” of hypothesis or conjecture, and comment, and jokes?
—how do we protect free comment, especially satire, as an essential part of civilization, democracy, and Rocking Out In The Free World?
—how to maintain Mill’s balancing of rights, and inclusion of all minority rights?

5. We know that women are not a minority, and that they actually constitute a majority of the population. And by “they” I mean cis and trans women—we’re all women and sisters, it’s as simple as that—and any other people of transgender or indeed any identity who would like to be “women” rather than “men.” Be that for immediate present purposes only, or long-term, or to be occasional honorary women, or off and on, or anything else they like: hell, it’s your identity!

6. I’d like to think that witty people aren’t in a negible minority either, and that the intersection of “women” and “witty people” and “sensible people” and “nice people” isn’t so minute as to approach non-existence… even though, of course, we all count anyway: minority rights!

Caitlin Moran again, from the end of that aforementioned piece:

You know – the popularity of social networking sites waxes and wanes with ferocious rapidity. Twitter might currently be the hot thing – but it only takes a couple of bad months for it to become the new Friends Reunited, the new MySpace, the new Bebo. Another ghost-town, left empty when women, and their good male friends, tired of this horrible clown caravel of rape and death and threat and blocking and antagonism and cynicism and the shrugging insistence that this is how is will always be.

If 52% of Twitters customers – women – see other women being repeatedly left to deal with abuse on their own, then when a new social networking site appears that has addressed this issue appears, then I suspect they will drain away from Twitter in a way that makes a 24-hour walk-out look like a mere bagatelle.

The main compass to steer by, as this whole thing rages on, doubtless for some months to come, is this: to maintain the spirit that the internet was conceived and born in – one of absolute optimism that the future will be better than the past. And that the future will be better than the past because internet is the best shot we’ve had yet for billions of people to communicate equally, and peacefully, and with the additional ability to post pictures of thatched houses that look “surprised.”

7. Why can’t people just be nice to each other? Back to Caitlin Moran again (same piece):

Dude, everyone in the Western world lives an existence wholly defined by constant change. – change that was brought about by people going, “I tire of people dying young. That sucks. I will invent antibiotics,” or “I have thought of a marvellous thing – global communication, via a glorified typewriter!”

It is a particular quirk of egotism/a lack of any sense of history or perspective to say, confidently and crushingly, “Things cannot change.” What someone who says “Things cannot change” means, more often that not, is “I do not want things to change.”

There is a neat squaring of the circle when you notice that, on this issue, those who say “Things cannot change” are, in the overwhelming majority, men – and that the people they are trying to shut down who are saying, repeatedly, “Things must change,” are women.

And this is all particularly inappropriate when the conversation is about how, of all things, it is the internet that cannot change. The internet, which was invented, within our lifetimes, by hippies. Tim Berners-Lee, who gave away the coding for free, with the words “This is for everyone” – the sentence that was so astonishing and inspiring when it lit up the stadium at the Olympics Opening Ceremony.

In short, the internet was invented, very recently, for people, by people, and founded in optimism and idealism.

For this odd new groundswell of commentators to start claiming that the internet is inherently dark, cruel and cynical is a gross misappropriation of one of the wonders of the modern age. It misunderstands what it was, is and, most importantly, could be.

8. Some quick answers, netiquette suggestions, and


ONE: have some common sense and use it

TWO: if in doubt, apply reason and reasonableness, and show some basic humanity

THREE: don’t act and speak online as you would in non-online life—on the telephone, in person. But better.

Your behaviour in electronic media should be at a higher standard  because it has the potential to be there for ever (even more so than correspondence on fragile physical media like old-fashioned paper).

It’s not just a matter of data being collected for political, security, and/or anti-privacy reasons. Online information is also collected for other reasons, and many of them are in the public (and everybody’s) interest. Sure, the same organization can be engaged in both of these activities: that just means that, like everything else in life, it’s not simple but is complicated.

Take for example Google, and its giant databases and their usefulness and goodness, such as the giant corpus used for Google Translate. This is a free service, open to all, that is in a constant state of improvement: and that improvement is thanks to Google users, in their searches, documents, and emails. Every time you type in search terms in Google or YouTube, every time you send an email on Gmail, or blog on Blogger, or draft or edit documents on Drive: you’re adding to this body of knowledge. I’m totally cool with that: I’m helping other people, and we’re all working together to get things right, to help other people, all together, for now and for the future (and yes, Google has mechanisms in place not to have results hijacked by nefarious people, there’s ways and means, and thar too has positives and negatives; I think the positives balance out, for the moment).

All these words collected together into their giant databases, datasets, corpora (the meat and potatoes of people working with language and linguistics, like the researchers further up), added together with older pre-existing words from Google Books and Google Scholar (and everything else older online, ex. c/o Project Gutenberg) aren’t just useful because they’re collected together. They also all feed Google’s hugely useful statistical tools. Including tools for tracking and analysing language, linguistic usage, historical patterns. See: Google Trends (used to include Google Zeitgeist) and The Knowledge Graph.

Result: increasing the sum total of human knowledge, and helping thinking and planning in an informed way for the future. “Good” because “for the good of us all”: mankind, all life, the planet, the present, the future.

I love Google and their products. I use them all the time at work; and my work would be monumentally slower with such search tools and massive data sets. For the record, I do not work for Google (or for that matter for the University of Lancaster; and no, I am not Claire Hardaker, or Mary Beard, or Caitlin Moran).

So: when online, remember that your words and deeds will probably outlive you. They’ll still be there, and in these giant corpora, long after your material remains are no more. Sure, don’t drive yourself crazy trying to make sure you only ever say witty and/or profound things. But try not to say anything you would regret, that you wouldn’t want to be archived and preserved for all eternity.

There’s immortality and immortality, as Ovid’s Metamorphoses and all its associates, predecessors, versions, variants, and rewritings over the centuries attest.

9. Further:

  • What Would Karl Popper Say?
  • What Would Michel de Montaigne Write?
  • What Would George Eliot Comment?
  • How Would Jane Austen Have Her Characters Play This Out?
  • WWJD?

10. Comments? Questions? Answers? Add them (here below or, more usefully) over on the Daily Fail or Grauniad sites (click above for direct links), and/or go comment or tweet over in the twittersphere!


WWJD? I think we could hasard a guess…

Ben Jennings, The Guardian online edition, “Comment is Free” section, commentable cartoon subsection (2013-07-28): this item ends this post, along with some of its selected comments. Selected mainly for representing what I like to think of, as an expat partial-Brit, as the kind of classic British wit I miss. But enough of my nostalgic t/witterings; now, back to the good Mr. Jennings. Amongst the subtle allusions to various women, flitting across the face of the lady below, there’s a flash of Miss Austen:

Screen Shot 2013-08-05 at 10.53.29 AM Screen Shot 2013-08-05 at 10.53.48 AM Screen Shot 2013-08-05 at 10.54.16 AM Screen Shot 2013-08-05 at 10.54.35 AM Screen Shot 2013-08-05 at 10.56.40 AM


  1. Sixth Sense = Intuition :
    “When a person permanently disconnects, an identity problem arises. The person’s psyche is violated. Once a person cannot believe his own senses, intuition, thoughts, or feelings, what consistency can be established to form the person’s identity? Identity and control must be established in the only other way possible: by controlling people.” (para. 10)
    From that explanation, the take-away is that instead of contributing to the discussion, flaming and gas-lighting is the Trolls preferred tactic. On one hand its not a surprise that some people feel disconnected, their reactions are an attempt to connect, but the manner in which they are doing so is inappropriate. Their not taking time to digest and form an opinion; the start a fight response is stronger than retrospection.
    Immaturity being what it is, sometimes explaining concepts in small Tweets can work, but overall the space and time for it is too limited. When it gets really bad, sometimes pointing out those limitations in context of immaturity is the only thing left to do. As a new form of alcohol, there is no limit on media consumption and its adverse reactions, the hang-over effect in the form of back-lash is inevitable.

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