My mate John Kirk made some interesting points regarding the complaints process on Twitter in the comments section of The F Word, Part 8. He has tried to use the Twitter complaints mechanism to protest about the behaviour of another user towards a group of women (John is a most excellent person, and deserves enormous credit for trying to stop this abuse). He discovered some interesting things.

Firstly, only the person who is the subject of the abuse can report the abusive tweets. This takes away any possibility of any sort of “concerned citizen” activity like John’s and any possibility of the community becoming self-regulating. It’s as though only the victim can call the police in any given instance. Imagine if you rang the police to report a burglary next door and they told you they wouldn’t do anything about it because it wasn’t your house and only the occupier could report the burglary. Nutso! 

Secondly, to report an abusive tweet takes much much longer than to send one. You have to fill out a form. A form! In social media terms this is antediluvian. It’s as though they asked you to report the tweet on a papyrus roll delivered to Seattle by fast dhow. Contrast with the ease of SENDING an abusive tweet, which is no problem at all.

Thirdly, there is, as John points out, the time element. If only the recipient of abuse can report the tweet, and it takes, let’s be generous, ten minutes to report each tweet (and remember, this doesn’t STOP the tweets – it’s just a report, who knows how long it will take Twitter to deal with it), if you get ten abusive tweets an hour from ten different people (so one every six minutes) over six hours, the course of the average evening, that’s sixty tweets, which is sixty forms. At ten minutes a form, that’s 600 minutes, or TEN HOURS. And you’ll have to do this yourself, remember, you can’t get anyone else to help, and also, as John points out, you have to read the stuff in order for it to be reported, so it’s not possible for you to protect yourself from it or be protected from it by friends.

In other words, if you’re on the end of this sort of hate speech on Twitter, there is, practically speaking, absolutely nothing you can do about it. You have to suck it up. To return to my pub metaphor, in stark contrast to the attitude of the landlord of The Trafalgar in Tooting, the owner of the premises in which you are endeavouring to have a quiet drink will do nothing to protect you at all. Can’t help, I’m afraid. Just ignore the abuse. Fill out a form if you want to complain, they’re over there. No, we can’t take it over the counter, you have to post it to head office. Not our problem, mate.

More tomorrow.