Twitter's failure to tackle trolls is an insult to the likes of Stan Collymore
Happy 43rd birthday, , and your birthday present from Twitter is … uninhibited trolling. Collymore, a former Liverpool and England striker, does controversy for a living as a columnist and commentator for TalkSport. He's quick, knowledgable and direct, on the air, in print and on Twitter. It's part of his job description to be provocative. He wants Twitter followers, and retweets and the whole paraphernalia of a big social media presence. But, quite reasonably, that does not include racist abuse and death threats, nor a disregard for the law. And if it happens, he expects action. But from Twitter Inc, all is, according to him, silence.
For Collymore, it's a familiar problem. It reached new depths last weekend, though, after he asserted, in his customary take-no-prisoners style, that Luis Suarez dived, was awarded a penalty, and Liverpool turned what was nearly a humiliating home defeat by Aston Villa into a draw. Plenty of other observers agreed with , but engaging in argument isn't what Twitter trolls do. Instead, they launch into poisonous racist abuse, as a glance at @stancollymore reveals.
Six weeks ago, Collymore, who also uses Twitter when he's campaigning on mental health, to help track down his most persistent abusers. But so far, he says, he's heard nothing.
What is Twitter thinking? Its , its promise of action in the event of abuse plausible. It reserves the right to take down the accounts of people who use them abusively. Only, it apparently doesn't do so. Nor does it explain why, even though each high-profile victim means another heap of reputational damage, as it knows from the painfully protracted case of Caroline Criado-Perez who became the victim of abuse after having the nerve to campaign to get a woman on a banknote. She fought for months to try to get Twitter to close the accounts of abusers threatening her with rape and murder. At last, after the identity of one was tracked down by a Newsnight producer, of the 80 or so abusers. They will be sentenced at the end of this week.
Here are some cynical explanations for the company's reluctance to take action. Maybe it regards every account as another account to boost Twitter's appeal to advertisers. Maybe it dismisses abuse as only words, and isn't all publicity good publicity. It presumably isn't a libertarian conviction in the inviolability of free speech because Twitter acknowledges its limits in its own rules. It could claim that policing the margins is difficult, in which case it should turn to the helpful last summer.
But maybe Twitter is just so confident in its product, so sure that millions of people rely on it as a wonderful platform for controversy, or community building or just chatting with their mates, that they won't step away. So can just sit back and enjoy watching its share price soar.
Of course, Twitter is only the messenger. It does not originate the message. For as long as there are people who are disturbed to find, in a shocking reversal of the natural order, that there are white women, and black men, and people with a disability, who have opinions and are confident enough to express them, there will be Twitter trolls. (For further evidence of their sheer nastiness, look at the reaction to the athlete the other day.) But there also need to be laws to control the extremes. Unless of course you turn to a higher arbiter, like the churchgoers of Bath and Wells, advised to consider before posting, would ?