Daisy Wallis | Deputy Editor | Tuesday 2 August 2016 | GMT 16:00 | firstname.lastname@example.org
In recent weeks, social media has been littered with hatred and abuse towards celebrities that have since highlighted the distinct lack of regulation and safeguards currently in place. As social media giants like Twitter and Facebook have grown in prominence and membership, the instances of cyber bullying and vulgar comments being made has seen a rapid increase, which begs the question whether enough is being done by social media companies themselves. Of course, companies like Twitter and Facebook have included buttons on their sites to directly block and report those who continually offend, but has this really been enough?
An incident that has dominated the news lately regards Saturday Night Live! and Ghostbusters star Leslie Jones and the string of abusive and vulgar tweets she received from online trolls. Jones was subject to a string of racist and misogynistic tweets following the opening weekend of the Ghostbusters reboot which sees an all-female lead cast. The film, since its first announcement, has received much negativity with the first trailer becoming the most disliked in YouTube history. However, this misogynistic abuse escalated once the film had been released and sparked what can only be described as the most vulgar and racist comments made via the social media site since its inception.
Having already threatened to leave the social media site in March, Jones was left heartbroken and disgusted by the racial abuse directed at her seen in a series of emotional tweets. It is in these few tweets directed at the trolls, where she described herself feeling numb and bewildered at the extent of the hatred, that the true emotional effects of the abuse can be seen. This is one human being – just trying to pursue her dreams and ambitions – being publicly targeted and sent abuse that is just unacceptable in the 21st century. Why should one person be put through so much emotional distress that they are forced to temporarily leave a site because of a group of narrow-minded ignorant internet trolls?
Since Jones confronted the issue, the majority of trolls have since been caught and banned from Twitter. The most high profile of these trolls was writer Milo Yiannopoulos, who has built numerous smear campaigns usually against high profile women. After numerous campaigns calling for the writer to be banned from the website in the past had failed, the work of both Leslie Jones and the management behind Twitter has led to the removal of a deeply disliked user – a huge step for the conglomerate.
But is this the right course of action? Is it enough to simply remove the most offensive users? The legacy of users like Yiannopoulos is deeply ingrained into the website, with racist and misogynistic tweets still being posted every day. Banning an individual doesn’t undo the levels of abuse and harassment they have orchestrated. Instead many argue that the recent ban on Yiannopoulos has had the adverse effect, galvanising many of his followers against not just celebrities but everyday users. This has thus led many people to believe that the ban is merely a short term resolution to an issue that has plagued social media since its beginnings.
The sheer volume of incidents like Leslie Jones’ harassment shows the ineffectiveness of the current systems in place. In one of the most sinister incidents, a twenty-year-old student created Twitter accounts for the sole intention of tormenting James Bulger’s mother, Denise Fergus. Chloe Cowan created two accounts with the names ‘Bulger’s Ghost’ and ‘John Venables’ (one of James’ killers) and sent a number of truly horrific tweets to Fergus. The tweets caused much distress and emotional heartache for Fergus who was eventually forced to involve the police. In a statement during the court proceedings against the teenager, the extent of the mental torture faced by Fergus can truly be seen – “this is mental cruelty and you shouldn’t be able to write this and get away with it.”
Despite the level of emotional distress these abusive tweets clearly had on Denise Fergus, Cowan only received three years imprisonment. For abuse that left a woman fearing to leave her own home, it leaves many to wonder whether this was the right sentence. With such cruel and sinister messages sent, should this internet troll be allowed the right to share such messages?
In yet another high profile case this year, both Barack and Michelle Obama have been subject to racist tweets that again emphasise how dangerous Twitter can be. Following her greatly loved speech at the Democratic National Convention, one woman decided to publicly insult the First Lady’s appearance. Following much backlash towards the woman’s racist comment, the woman was eventually fired from her job at Home Point Loans – a win for the people of Twitter.
In a case that saw the people of Twitter coming together to remove the clearly racist user, it is clear that the internet trolls seen in incidents like the Leslie Jones case and the Denise Fergus case make up the minority on the website. The vast number of everyday users who help to block and report offensive users to the Twitter team have aided the effort to remove trolls from the social media site.
Overall, it is clear from the number of cases that I have detailed here, and the vast other examples that occur every single day, that more does need to be done to eradicate internet trolls for good. As we can see from the Michelle Obama case, the users of Twitter do come together to expose such racist and misogynistic trolls through their powers of ‘block’ and ‘report’. It is clear that although this was effective in this case and probably in many other cases, the fact that abuse as cruel and vindictive as this can still be orchestrated in the 21st century is wrong and clearly needs to be remedied. As Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey has stated, “no one deserves to be the target of abuse on Twitter.”