I read in The Telegram about Cathy Bennett’s departure from government. The minister noted her experiences of vicious social media attacks. I hear a lot about anonymous abuse suffered by those using media platforms, be they ordinary folk or people in the public eye, and, particularly distressing, girls and women.
Now, I’ve been around the block and am not noted for a thin skin, but if I used social media (which I don’t) and received a hateful message I would be most upset and throw my device over the nearest cliff. I cannot imagine how those persistently harassed deal with the situation, or what the long-term effects are on both conscious and unconscious minds, although, sadly, we do know of tragic events precipitated by online abuse.
If someone looks me in the eye and tells me I am a bad person I can respect that and deal with it. But a message on a screen is ghostly and unsettling, not because of repulsive language (words are not deeds), but because it could have come from anyone, including a troll (depicted in mythology as an ugly cave-dwelling dwarf, or in modern terms one who sows discord on the Internet).
Online trolls are portrayed as disturbed basement (cave) dwellers subsisting on pizza and pop exercising their perverted imaginings. Maybe they are just lonely people who feel a life over which they have no control is passing them by and this is their perverted way of getting attention. Or maybe they are simply just very nasty people.
What can be done about hateful online abuse? There are of course laws, and we sometimes hear of those called to account, but finding abusers is difficult when there are so many ways of hiding within the technology.
However, the solution is very simple. Just remove anonymity. As with many newspapers the Telegram will not publish anonymous letters. That’s easy for the print media. For online the technology exists to attach a marker (similar to a barcode) to identify senders’ names. Inventive minds may find a way around this, in which case there is technology for a chip implant to link with the device being operated, automatically showing the sender’s name and location. Hopefully online behavior improves before entering that dystopian world.
So why is this not done? Certainly removing anonymity will reduce online traffic and wireless carriers’ incomes. Perhaps it is felt better to allow disturbed individuals to ‘let off steam’ online rather than act on their twisted phantasies We can only speculate.
The good news is that devices can be turned off. For those who find this very difficult be of good cheer – truly there is life beyond Twitter.