The perils of the ‘anti-social’ media: Facebook follies and Twitter ‘trolls’

According to the Chambers Dictionary definition, twitter is a ‘tremulous chirping’ and ‘an excrescence on a horse’s hoof’, which I’m sure Zara Philips would recognise instantly.

Handling as it does 40 million ‘tweets’ a day, Twitter is also a social media phenomenon, so colossally popular it has ballooned into the second most-visited information exchange after Facebook.

So how come I rather favour Chambers’ latter definition, minus allusion to things equine, because I think there’s a clear and present danger it is becoming not so much ‘excrescence’ more on-line, verbal excrement?

I don’t ‘tweet’ for two main reasons: i) I’d find it nigh on impossible to say anything meaningful in a maximum of 140 characters; and ii) most of the outpourings I’ve read on Twitter are so utterly puerile, I don’t wish to join a club whose membership includes lobotomised nerds with nothing better to do than to stuff their opinionated vanities down the gullets of the gullible or similarly vacuous.

Yes, yes, I’m sure Twitter has some very salient advantages, which many folk appreciate. However, my gut instinct tells me I’m somehow not going to benefit from the ‘tweeted’ wit and wisdom of overpaid soccer stars or what some preening pop princess has to contribute on the topic of world peace.

TWEETERS BEWARE: Anonymous 'trolls' lurk in the dark zones of Twitter, often targeting women

TWEETERS BEWARE: Anonymous ‘trolls’ lurk in the dark zones of Twitter, often targeting women

Maybe it’s a generational gap – after all, 51% of its users are in the 24-34 age bracket – but frankly I suspect the whole social media scene is a minefield, too easily open to misuse by abusers dubbed ‘trolls’.

Facebook, meanwhile, can be a mixed bag, though I have a page on that site, where this blog features.

Certainly, it’s a splendid means of mass broadcasting personal messages – thereby nullifying the need to make countless phone calls – but beware of pitfalls…like saying how you’re coping after the decree nisi (fact: one in five divorces is blamed on Facebook).

Maybe the pool party photos you posted of you and what’s-his-name skinny-dipping, rat-legged, might have been to blame. The judge certainly didn’t buy the line it was just innocent fun, especially when your newly-liberated ‘ex’ was away on business in Hong Kong.

Meanwhile, was it wise to announce to every burglar in the neighbourhood you were off on that round-the-world cruise? No wonder those nasty insurance men made such a fuss over your claim for replacing three plasma-screen TVs, all those expensive electronic gizmos and your late mum’s collection of Georgian silver after they’d seen your Facebook page.

Frankly, I’m often gobsmacked at how much personal info people naively post on the internet about their plans, their thoughts and those wonderful snaps, which is why Facebook has become the first portal of call from the criminal fraternity.

Twitter, however, is an entirely different social media animal – and lately too often a vicious, nihilistic form of disseminating obnoxious disinformation by any moron with the minimal grey matter to invent a hash-tag.

So, far from social media being a positive force for democratising the internet, thus allowing individuals to plug their talents or businesses and form friendships, in parts it has become a virtual realm of dark lawlessness for the anti-social to gratuitous pervert what we glibly describe as ‘free speech’.

And, in the wrong hands, it’s fascistic, because it directly contradicts the compact that exists in a civilised society, whereby we accept moral responsibilities – and legal edicts – that curb what we can do and say.

The official media generally accept those obligations, because libel actions are expensive, while phone-hacking and bribing cops is illegal.

TWEETERING TWIT? Sally Berkow, wife of the House of Commons Speaker, paid the price for an erroneous 'tweet'

TWEETERING TWIT: Sally Berkow, wife of the House of Commons Speaker

Some ‘tweeters’, too – notably silly Sally Berkow, wife of the UK House of Commons Speaker, comedian Alan Davies and Guardian columnist, George Monbiot – also found a loose texting finger can be costly and embarrassing, after they erroneously smeared Lord McAlpine as a paedophile.

Yet, Twitter remains the preferred weapon of choice for sinister ‘trolls’, who eke out sicko pleasure in cyber-bullying and stalking an untold number of women with the most chillingly explicit menaces.

It’s also the nether world of sexual predators and racists, who can broadcast their bile by cellphone, on the hoof and ostensibly undetectable.

Meanwhile, because the demented perps hide behind the anonymity of hash-tags and operate in cowardly isolation, nobody, it seems, can collar them.

The police claim they haven’t the resources, despite managing to arrest a man over alleged death threats to British parliamentarian Stella Creasy and campaigner Caroline Criado-Perez.

And Twitter? So far their knee-jerk reaction has been little more than a cringe-inducing ‘personal apology’ from its UK boss, Tony Wang.

ABUSE VICTIM: Hannah Smith, 14, hanged herself after being bullied by anonymous 'trolls' on the Ask.fm website

ABUSE VICTIM: Hannah Smith, 14, hanged herself after being cyber-bullied by anonymous ‘trolls’ on the Ask.fm website

Twitter and Facebook, however, aren’t the only miscreants, because last week 14-year-old Hannah Smith, from Leicestershire, hanged herself, after receiving threats on Ask.fm, a Q&A site, which allows users to send messages to one another without having to disclose their identities.

Last year two Irish youngsters took their lives in separate incidents after also being bullied on the same, Latvia-based site.

Clearly, this state of internet anarchy can’t prevail and politicians everywhere seem powerless to stop the rot, except to issue pious words of condemnation.

So the solution must rest with the social media platform providers themselves, who should show some social responsibility for the billions they net, by blocking the nasties and nutters from their domains.

Until they do, ‘tweet’ at your peril and make sure your Facebook postings don’t explode in your face.

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