The SC Blog

Online trolls: what's all the fuss?

As online trolls would say: are you mad bro? - Pic: The Telegraph
As online trolls would say: are you mad bro? - Pic: The Telegraph

It is often argued that free speech is an all or nothing concept. A person has a right to express themselves, regardless of whether or not it is offensive to someone else.

As soon as it becomes even slightly compromised, such as by police monitoring social media, we become susceptible to censorship and oppression. And recently just that happened.

A new task force was to be set up by Scotland Yard that would locate and bring to justice persons who post offensive messages online.

This is a not a case of Orwellian overreach, this is downright misguided use of government funds which are quite literally being used to shelter those who can't seem to find the ‘Block' button on their social media.

Staffed by five detectives, and supported by army volunteers who will be trained in the art of quashing online trolls, the unit's role will be to identify the location of the crime when online abuse is reported, and refer it to ‘the appropriate force area and social media providers'.

Online trolls can now be jailed for up to two years for ‘malicious communication' under laws amended in 2015. So presumably the idea is to employ a task force which can actually enforce said law.

I covered this news, and while writing about it a few questions sprang to mind: what defines offensive, are we too defensive, should we learn to ignore trolls? Should someone be prosecuted for off-the-cuff vitriol? How can the squad to decide what is offensive and what isn't, and above all else, how do we know this won't just turn into the “hurt feelings” police?

We cannot ignore the fact that we're building a world that's more connected, more public and more open than ever. But I think people forget - it is possible to simply log off Twitter - or deactivate a Facebook account.

The announcement comes as reports of racist and sexist abuse on social media are on the rise, with a surge of 42 percent, with a lot of it being attributed to Britain's oncoming exit from the European Union.

And at the time of writing, we're living in a world 2 months after the murder of Jo Cox MP, who was essentially murdered for expressing her opinion on the UK's EU Referendum. As a staunch ‘Remain' voter, Jo was murdered by a 52 year old man who allegedly shouted “Put Britain first.”

And on the other end of the spectrum, the Guardian recently reported that Gabby Douglas, a black gymnast for the US Olympics team, was on the wrong end of online trolls. She got flack for not cheering enough when teammates competed and not putting her hand on her heart when the US national anthem was played. She even got negative comments with regards to the straightness of her hair.

Gabby is an Olympic athlete, competing at the highest level of her sport. She's currently 20 years of age, and has a gold medal for being the absolute best at her job. I think we can all agree that she is doing very well.

And yet, in the same Guardian article, Gabby's mum, Heather Douglas, told news agency Reuters that Gabby was absolutely in pieces over online bullying, and it resulted in a very lacklustre performance from Gabby in her final Rio performance.

In my opinion - a very cynical one to note - I hope the new Anti-Troll-Squad will quickly differentiate between actual hateful messages that need investigating like death threats to messages which someone finds offensive.

Many have argued that the £2million+ budget the unit has been given would be much better spent tackling actual maniacs on the streets, much like the man who killed Jo Cox, and I'm very inclined to agree.

According to The Independent, the Siddiqi brothers, who rose to fame by appearing on Channel 4's GoogleBox, were recently visited at their home by anti-terror police, after they posted a picture of themselves on a day-out doing a bit of paintballing in camouflage gear.

The picture was captioned by the brothers themselves as, “Isis training day, look how happy we look.” They got in trouble for making a knowing joke about racial stereotypes.

That is downright ridiculous.

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