Two horrible happenings came to my attention this week. First, Stan Collymore appeared on the Today show talking about the racial abuse he has been subjected to by Twitter users. During the interview, several Tweets were rolling in, amazingly, to a similar vein. I had a look on my phone and could not believe what I was reading. Later the same day, Alice Judge-Talbot posted a link on Facebook which explained what happened when Beth Tweddle featured on Sky Sports for a live interview. Viewers were asked to Tweet their questions using the hashtag #sportswomen. Again, as I clicked through the explanatory slideshow, I was pretty amazed at the tirade of sexist comments, and not in a good way. Some of the tweets were downright violent in their nature, one twit even posting a picture of Jimmy Saville along with their obnoxious tweet, carrying with it all the vile connotations of that mans hideous acts of violence and abuse.
I have only recently discovered Twitter, and for the most part, I really enjoy the immediacy of the medium. I have discovered a host of new blogs, connected with some of my favourite bloggers and broadcasters, and several fantastic campaigns have been brought to my attention. I love not only how democratic and fun it can be but also a potent force for good. So I was really saddened to learn of theses examples of abuse, which, as Stan Collymore pointed out, would be illegal if they occurred in ‘real life’. Call it naiveté, call it optimism, but I found it all really shocking and I couldn’t stop thinking about it all day. (God only knows how it feels to be on the receiving end like Stan and Beth and so many others.) As Jane Garvey said on the piece Womans Hours did on it, it’s the ‘bare faced cheek’ of these people that is astounding. How many of these twits would voice their comments out loud, directly to Stan and Beth, surrounded by even a small crowd of men and women, never mind millions of other people?
Earlier this month, two trolls were jailed for sexist abuse and threats directed at feminist campaigner Caroline Criado-Perez and Stella Creasy MP. This week, Twitter has introduced a new ‘report tweet’ button for reporting abuse, and says it will act when content is against their rules, or breaks the law. The question is – with such a huge volume of content, will they be able to act quick enough? On a separate but related issue featured on Newsnight this week, Stella Creasy magnificently asserted that far from victims of abuse needing to learn to ‘man-up’, the behaviour of the culprits must change. It’s not okay to treat another person that way and as humans we need to stand up to that behaviour and demonstrate that its unacceptable. I hope that any potential perpetrators are dissuaded from irresponsible and offensive Twittering by the outcome of the Perez case.