As businesses we use Social Media forums of all descriptions on a daily basis. We use it for networking, promoting ourselves and our brands, to be in touch with interesting people and to build our credibility in our industry. There are reams of rules, guidelines and blogs that we write in order to document best and most successful strategies.

We are largely a benign, friendly and helpful lot. Occasionally we get a bit boring with direct sales messages but that’s essentially the worst sin we commit.

Social Media and the Dark Side

The practice of Trolling has sadly come to everyone’s attention over the last few days. Threats of rape have been posted to Caroline Criado-Perez on Twitter in response to her campaign to have an image of Jane Austen on the new £10 note and to the Labour MP Stella Creasy. Bomb threats were sent to TV Presenter Prof Mary Beard last week and to journalist Claire Dent. More information on these threats can be read here in the BBC News article

Social Media Bullies

Like most people, I can’t begin to understand trolling behaviour. It’s obscene. I may not agree with all of the views of the people I am connected to on social media and entering a debate is one thing but abuse is not debate is it? It’s the worst in playground bulling. Except the bullies in this case a remote, hiding, and I imagine, sitting in skanky, darkened rooms in their pants, sniggering into their devices. Just because the abuse is on Social Media does not make it ‘virtual’. The possibility of actual ‘rape’ or ‘bombing’ may not have been ‘real’ in its truest sense, but the threat of it is real abuse that can lead to feelings of vulnerability and isolation.

Bring in the Big Guns

Tony Wang, Twitter UK’s boss has pledged to do more to tackle abusive behaviour and there are plans to have a ‘report abuse’ button, making it easier to log threats and abuse. There has been great debate around the subject over the last week. In Toby Young’s blog for the Telegraph  he questions whether a ‘report abuse’ button would morph in to a ‘report anything I disagree with’ button and undermine the free speech approach of the Twitter platform, and the concept of free speech as a whole. His view is to ‘just block them and move on’. His contention is that most Troll behaviour is merely attention seeking and not of any real threat. I have to say, although no massive fan of all of Tony’s views, he has made valid points here. A robust use of the block button on any social media platform is probably more than enough to rid oneself of any malicious comment.

However, I can’t help but worry about the percentage of truly abusive and threatening behaviour and its effect upon the victims. Tony’s view is fine if you are robust, but what if you are not? What if you are feeling vulnerable and isolated about such attacks? What if you are young and impressionable? 14 year old Hannah Smith it appears was all of those things. Why did she not report the abuse she received via ask.fm – would it have helped save her from the path she took? And why are her 16 year old sister and the tribute Facebook page receiving the same vile cyber bulling abuse? 

Any of us who are parents of younger children will want easy measures put in place on all forums to report abuse and surely we need to be educating our young ones that, just as with playground bullies, the first course of action is to tell someone and that there is no shame in that.

The cornerstone of democracy is free speech and the freedom to debate. We lose that at our peril, but there is still room for the old adage ‘if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all’

Here is information on how to report abusive behaviour or content for:

Facebook

Twitter

Google+ for parents 

Google+ for Adults

LinkedIn