Are online asbos the solution to tackling trolls?

MPs are apparently trying to tackle rising levels of anti-semitism (amongst other offences) on social media by proposing ‘internet asbos’ for serial offenders. They have called on the Crown Prosecution Service to examine whether an online version of the anti-social behaviour order could be an option, similar to the prevention orders which restrict sex offenders’ online access.

The focus on anti-semitism is down to an alarming rise in incidents against Jews during July and August of last year, when conversation about the fighting between Israel and Gaza was at a high. A report discovered that ‘Hitler’ and ‘Holocaust’ were among the top 35 key words used on Twitter last summer (although the Daily Mail, the source from which I have read this story, doesn’t put those terms into any context. For example, it could’ve been a journalist talking about a story containing one of those words).

So will this actually happen, or is it just another instance of politicians saying they’re going to do something, and then not actually coming up with the goods? If it does come to fruition, will having a digital asbo slapped on their accounts actually stop online trolls from dishing out any further abuse in the future?

Whilst I think anything that tries to sort out people that behave like total dicks online can only be a good thing, this news questions once again whether there is any way of policing the internet.

The Guardian reported yesterday that Jewish online magazine Tablet has started charging commenters $2 per day to comment on their news stories. They have denied that it’s a money-making scheme, instead claiming that it creates ‘a more pleasant and cultivated environment’ for its readers.

Is this something that could work? I know many sites ask you for an email address before you can comment, but I’m pretty sure that every online troll has an account specifically for writing shitty comments to other internet users. If you had to give more information, and actually pay for the comments you’re writing, would this put people off trolling?

After the news that Twitter chief executive Dick Costolo admitted that the company, and I quote, “sucks” when it comes to dealing with abuse and trolling on the site, it’s clear that something needs to be done. In a memo to staff, leaked to the Verge, he said that bullying behaviour was driving users away from the site, and he promised tougher action to deal with abusers.

I’m not shocked by much, but I’m amazed at how bad Twitter is at dealing with abuse on the site. The process to report an abusive user has been updated in the last couple of years, but it took massive amounts of abuse to certain users (such as Caroline Criado-Perez) for something to be done about it. So why are they so bad at dealing with it?

For me, it’s not that I don’t use Twitter because of trolls, but I’m far less likely to offer up my opinion on something or talk about a topic that could potentially be seen as controversial, because I can’t be arsed to deal with someone arguing with me for the sake of arguing. When I first joined Twitter in 2009, this wasn’t even an issue,

I once tweeted my local leisure centre asking why it was so expensive to join, and someone felt the need to ask me why I would want to spend time exercising staring at a brick wall, and that I should get outside more instead. I took the time to point out that actually I was interested in a membership so I could go swimming there before I cycled to the train station to get to work. It’s not the worst example of trolling, admittedly, but it just seems that people are happy to assume whatever the hell they want and then they get off on telling you how you should live your life.

Is there anything Twitter could have done better when it comes to reporting and tackling abuse on the platform? I suppose all of this comes with the issue of policing the internet- where would it begin and who would implement the rules? Should each site be responsible for their own platform, or should there be an overall body, similar to the Press Complaints Commission, who oversee the complaints process across all sites?

We’ve got a long way to go in terms of tackling online abuse and those who are responsible, but I think it just needs one site to get the ball rolling in a way that is sustainable for keeping people offline, and the others will follow suit.

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Iona St Joseph

Written by Iona St Joseph

PR exec who likes finding funnies and cool stuff online. Print journalism graduate.

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