Cyberbullying – Are the Websites to Blame?

Cyberbullying has been a hot topic this week.

The ‘Twitter Silence’ campaign – during which a number of tweet-happy celebrities abstained from all Twitter activity for 24 hours – was designed to draw attention to incidents of “trolling”. The trolling, in this particular instance, had consisted of abusive messages, including threats of rape, violence and bomb-attacks, aimed predominantly at women in the public eye.

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No one really knows if the ‘Twitter Silence’ campaign achieved very much. It certainly made cyberbullying and violence against women a focal point in the media – but generally only in the sort of publications read by people who wouldn’t have been participating in trolling activity in the first place.

Since the silence, Twitter has come under a lot of pressure to install a ‘report abuse’ button on their site, allowing people to isolate Twitter users who breach the codes of conduct.

Similarly, after the incredibly tragic suicide of Hannah Smith, reportedly after she came under a cyberbulling attack, the website ask.fm have experienced considerable backlash and calls to install some sort of process which would prevent this sort of bullying from taking place.

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The problem with a ‘report abuse’ button, or any similar mechanism, though, is that it implies that these website are responsible for the aggression of some of their users, or at least that they have the power to prevent this aggression from becoming public.

This seems a little unfair.

A ‘report abuse’ button would require the implementation of either an algorhythm that can isolate offensive language and detect multiple reports, or a set of human beings tasked with weeding out trolls. The former is easily manipulated and the latter requires man-hours that these websites probably just don’t have to spare.

The main issue here, arguably, lies not with these websites. It lies with the sort of people who think its okay to berate, taunt, threaten and intimidate other people online. Until there is some sort of reconditioning process, by which these people can be educated to understand the damage, in real terms rather than cyber terms, that they are causing, then the problem will continue.

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