Internet bullying is a (sad) fact of life

June 21, 2012 by  
Filed under Features & Editorials


My debut blog post for MSN Social Voices.

Are legislators’ attempts to curb trolling misjudged and should we all grow thicker skins?

“Just hit him back, harder.” For years this was the simple advice given by fathers to children bullied at school. This bullying would not only take the form of taunts and pranks, but real physical abuse. Did such a risky piece of advice work? Sometimes, sometimes not. Today it certainly isn’t condoned, but there is a strong argument to be made for today’s web users to grow a thicker skin.

Today The Defamation Bill gets a second reading in the House of Commons. Its aim: to give websites a procedure to take down abusive material and identify trolls without facing legal recrimination. Some call it an abuse of privacy; others say it is long overdue legislation to deal with the scum of the internet. It is both… and good luck separating them.

Quite frankly everyone needs to grow a backbone. The websites which need stronger content filters, the social networks which need to stand up and take responsibility for the stupid, insulting and occasionally racist comments which form a tiny part of the millions of messages that earn them billions of dollars.

Users themselves also need to toughen up. Last month a survey found just over half of all Internet users have received abuse online or by text message… boo hoo, that’s about 50% less than those who have received it in real life.

For every righteous case there is something utterly ridiculous and the problem with written words is the unsolvable potential for misinterpretation which is only compiled by the internet’s ability to hide identity or get fraped.

“It will be very important to ensure that these measures do not inadvertently expose genuine whistleblowers,” said justice secretary Ken Clarke speaking about the Defamation Bill. “We are committed to getting the detail right to minimise this risk.”

Do you have faith in a legal process which came up with the Digital Economy Act (a law which prosecutes the bill payer of an internet connection, regardless of who committed a crime using it) and negotiated the ‘detail’ of the SOPA anti-piracy legislation with record labels and Hollywood studio bosses behind closed doors? Hardly.

Then the alternative is simply to give in. “You have zero privacy anyway,” said Sun Microsystem’s CEO Scott McNealy in 1999. Thirteen years later it is still something we are struggling to come to terms with. The free services we have long enjoyed have always come with this cost.

Did you think the power of the internet to connect people the world over wouldn’t also lead to the power to snipe, bully and troll the world over? How sweet.

Read the original article on MSN Social Voices and much more here.

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