As a Twitter user, I’m very happy with the platform for the most part, and use is as a source for news and information on a daily basis. As a parent, Twitter’s reaction to two separate alleged abuse incidents have me scratching my head about what protections are available to Twitter users, especially young ones.
In Watertown Connecticut, two students are awaiting a court appearance after allegedly using two anonymous Twitter accounts to abuse other students, with taunts including sexual and homophobic language. The reason that there were two accounts involved is that Twitter deleted the original account after parents reported the abuse to police. The not-so-savvy teens proceeded to set up another anonymous abuse account, but by that time the police had caught up with them.
In the UK this month, political figure Caroline Criado-Perez received multiple rape threats after successfully leading a campaign to have a woman’s face pictured on British bank notes. In this case, Twitter refused to deal with the abuse and suggested that Ms. Criado-Perez take her matter to the police. A man has since been arrested but the British Government has announced that they have some questions for Twitter.
In the Connecticut case above, Twitter took down the offending account, but it appears that they only did it after the police intervened. In the UK case, Twitter failed to take action even though rape threats are undoubtedly more serious than taunts and slurs.
As a parent, the message here is pretty simple. The social networks themselves, or at least some of them, are not going to do much to stop abusive behavior, even in some very serious cases. Cyberbullying is an important issue, from garden variety taunting to hateful harassment. The lines of communication between parents and kids need to be wide open, as parents are the first line of defense if a child or teen feels threatened. Talk to your kids if they are using social media, and make sure they are comfortable letting you know if they do feel threatened.
Contact ThirdParent any time for help and resources for monitoring teen internet activity.