British Prime Minister David Cameron has called for people to boycott websites that do not "step up to the plate" and deal with abuse online.
In the last few weeks there has been a renewed debate concerning abuse on the Internet in the U.K. A few weeks ago Cameron announced plans that when implemented would mean Internet users in the U.K. would have to opt in if they want to view pornography.
Recently, plans to put Jane Austen on the new £10 note prompted some twitter users to issue murder and rape threats to a member of parliament and feminists who supported the change. Three arrests have been made in connection to the abuse.
In response to the latest Twitter controversy some called for the social media site to introduce a "report" button, which would allow users to report abusive behavior. Twitter already has such a button for its iPhone app and has introduced a similar feature for users of its Android app in the U.K. The move, although perhaps well intended, has worrying implications, as Alex Deane from the U.K.-based think tank Big Brother Watch recently tried to explain to feminist Cathy Lette (video below).
Individuals are of course free to boycott sites where people can be bullied, and it is reassuring that Cameron did not come out in favor of any legislation to crack down on cyber bullies. As Alex Dean pointed out, it is already illegal to make rape and murder threats online in the U.K. As unpleasant as the recently highlighted threats and suicide are there is no need for the government to get more involved.
For more on Twitter and how it deals with abuse check out Greg Beato's article "Twitter: Free Speech in 140 Characters" from our March 2013 issue, in which the differences between Twitter's policy towards content and the content policies of other social media sites are highlighted:
Twitter, in contrast, governs in much less proscriptive fashion. "All Content, whether publicly posted or privately transmitted, is the sole responsibility of the person who originated such Content," its TOS reads. "We may not monitor or control the Content posted via the Services and, we cannot take responsibility for such Content. Any use or reliance on any Content or materials posted via the Services or obtained by you through the Services is at your own risk." In its Rules section, Twitter reaffirms this hands-off policy: "We do not actively monitor user's content and will not censor user content, except in limited circumstances."
Those limited circumstances mostly involve impersonating other people or disclosing their private and confidential information, committing trademark violations or copyright infringement, and posting "direct, specific threats of violence against others." Harvey elaborates: "You cannot say to a specific person, 'I'm coming over to your house right now with a baseball bat to kill you.'?"