Belfast Telegraph

Prosecute the vile, abusive tweeters

Editor's Viewpoint

In past times the bar room bore would air his moronic views on anything from world affairs to the role of women in society to his select band of mates who would promptly forget all about them once he left their company. Now, with the growth of social media, he has been given a platform for his opinions and can gain a global audience at the click of a button.

And as we have seen in recent days, the trolls who populate Twitter can be extremely offensive in their comments, especially when directing them towards women.

There is an obvious dilemma for those who are the targets of trolls. Should they respond and possibly provoke more outrageous comments or should they simply ignore them and hope that the abuse is halted?

Of course the best response is that of everyone's favourite classicist Mary Beard who managed to find out the identity of a troll and threatened to expose him, leading to him quickly apologising for his behaviour and promising to mend his ways.

But when the abuse veers into the realm of vile threats of rape or physical abuse, the targets should have the ability to report the trolls to the police and also to those who run social media sites like Twitter. During the recent spate of threats against women those running Twitter were accused of doing too little to late.

The inclusion of a panic button on the site is a step forward, but surely more can be done to monitor traffic on such sites and tracing those responsible for the worst offences.

The police have a fine line to tread. It is not always clear what is a real threat or just bluster from some sad anonymous individual who lives out fantasies through big talk. Also it must be remembered that one person's pathetic attempt at humour can be another person's perceived threat.

Holding trolls up to ridicule and exposing their identity is the surest way of sending them scuttling back into dark recesses, but prosecution should also follow those guilty of the vilest threats or taunts.

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