Facebook may be well ahead of the pack as far as social networking platforms is concerned, but for teens, Twitter is a far “cooler” option for social interaction. Last year, the semi-annual Taking Stock with Teens study revealed that the popularity of the micro-blogging site has surpassed that of the social networking giant among teens. This, however, has proved to be a bane for oppressed and marginalized groups due to bullying on Twitter. Being immature, impulsive and often reckless, the young users troll and even harass these groups for reasons ranging from entertainment to strong opposition to their ideologies.
The oppressed and marginalized finally get a voice
For years, the likes of LGBT groups, feminists, gender awareness groups and advocates of women rights were pushed against the wall. The society and even the governments had been refusing to let them exercise their basic freedom of speech. Many who dared to break the silence had to deal with severe consequences. However, the advent of social media, particularly Twitter, gave these oppressed groups a seemingly safe platform to get themselves heard. With the social media site offering them the luxury of anonymity along with freedom of speech, they finally got a chance to have their voice heard, a voice that had long been suppressed through coercion, fear and threats. Little did they expect themselves to get caught up in Twitter wars.
The abuse of anonymity and freedom of speech by trolls
Where the freedom of speech and anonymity offered by the micro-blogging site came as a blessing for the marginalized and oppressed groups, it also introduced them to a more contemporary threat, online harassment. Unlike adults, teens are either ignorant of online etiquettes, or they simply choose to ignore them, clearly oblivious to the consequences. Feeling empowered by the freedom and anonymity, they jump on the “Twitter train” with a series of fake accounts to attack users who perpetuate liberal ideologies, or even support their right to express themselves. Little do kids realizes that with anonymity and freedom comes responsibility and that that even online actions have consequences, as was seen in the Caroline Criado-Perez abuse case. After the journalist successfully petitioned the Bank of England to include a woman on a banknote, she was subjected to vile abuses and threats from around 80 accounts on Twitter. After much search, two of the perpetrators were arrested.
Keeping the Twitter environment civil and free of hostilities
Freedom, anonymity and kids are almost never allowed to mix by the society and for a very good reason too. The out-of-control trolling on Twitter is a classic of this. In order to combat this issue, the micro-blogging site needs to do away with the anonymous feature due to its abuse by cyberbullies. Furthermore, introducing age verification methods based on adult involvement may help to discourage irresponsible behavior among teens as they’d know that have a traceable identity. Parents can play an important role in making the online experience safer for teens as well as for other users by installing parental control software on their digital device to monitor their online use. They also need to educate their kids on the importance of responsible online behavior and the consequences of failing to do so.
Trolling is a problem of epidemic proportions on social media sites, be it Twitter, Facebook, or some other platform. It not only ruins the experience for other users, but can also have emotional and psychological effects on them. Therefore, the issue needs to be confronted by all the concerned stakeholders and dealt with in the same manner as other grave threats.