Everyday, 53 million tweets fly across the Twitter universe. These tweets cover a very wide range of subjects, from television shows to the minute details of a user’s private life. In today’s modern world, nothing is considered out of bounds when it comes to updating your social media profiles.
The rise of social media has been nothing short of phenomenal. It has reshaped everything from the way we get our news to the ways we interact with brands and our favourite products. However, there is also a glaring sinister side to social media.
Sites such as Twitter, Facebook and Ask.fm offer bullies and renegade users the chance to abuse and torment others from the shielded comfort of their phone, laptop or desktop. During this past fortnight, the negative side of social media has dominated the news, primarily the abuse of an MP and woman’s rights campaigners, and the suicide of a British schoolgirl who was relentlessly tormented online.
This type of activity has led to many companies and celebrities looking to the services of online and digital PR companies like PHA Media in London.
Both Twitter and Ask.fm, of course, have gone into PR overdrive in an attempt to deflect any criticism. The UK head of Twitter, Tony Wang, personally apologised to the two women involved in the recent Twitter abuse scandal, whilst Ask.fm has published an open letter sent to Hannah Smith, the girl who took her life after enduring relentless bullying on the site.
In the first case, that of Stella Creasy and Caroline Criado-Perez, an average of 50 abusive tweets were sent in the aftermath of a campaign to get more female British greats on our bank-notes. The nasty abuse highlighted a glaring issue within Twitter; the lack of an abuse button.
In the case of Hannah Smith, users are allowed to post anonymously, a structure that ‘trolls’ take advantage of to bully online. Trolls constantly abused Hannah Smith, bullying her about her appearance, her family and her interests. The tragedy has seemingly inflicted irreparable damage on Ask.fm, with several sponsors and backers pulling the financial plug.
The introduction of an abuse button, following a petition signed by some 130,000 people, is a positive step for Twitter. Whether it acts as a repellent to would-be trolls remains to be seen. However, surely law and order is needed? There seems to be a scatter gun approach to policing social media. Teenagers are arrested for racially abusing sportsman, yet rape threats are apparently ignored until the pressure to act becomes too much.
Governments need to sit down with Social Media leaders in order to construct formal and serious guidelines. Unless this happens, it seems that the next tragic abuse incident is just around the corner.