Handling Social media Trolls – BBC Guidance

Marianna Spring writes about handling social media abuse

Marianna Spring, pictured above, is the BBC’s official disinformation social media reporter. She often reports on the utterly bizarre and weird disinformation claims that are in common circulation. As you might imagine, that often results in her receiving an appalling degree of abuse from online trolls.

So the question of the moment is this; How does she handle all of this, and what does she personally recommend when you encounter such rhetoric?

She has written about her own experience within an iNews article she published on April 29, 2021

iNews: Social media boycott: BBC expert Marianna Spring on dealing with trolls and why sport is taking a stand

The full article is worth a read. I don’t intend to reproduce it here below. Instead I will simply quote-mine a few insightful observations that she makes. She is after all the subject matter expert here.

Point 1 : She receives a vast torrent of abuse… and she is not the only one

Last weekend, after reporting on online conspiracies being promoted at a protest in London, I was bombarded, yet again, with a torrent of threats and messages rife with misogyny – wishing I would die from the vaccine and calling for me to be tried for war crimes.

Because she works for the BBC she does have backing here. That includes access to both editors and security experts to offer advice on trolling, and to also grant personal safety guidance. She does recognise that others don’t have access to similar resources. For example …

Several medics and nurses have reached out to me, desperate to know how to handle online harassment from those who think Covid-19 is a hoax or that vaccines are part of a sinister global plot. One told me how terrified she felt when those sending her abuse – calling her a “Government shill” on Twitter – tried to track her down using images she had shared online.

Point 2 – Social Media Companies generally ignore it all and do nothing

She advises on the experience many have when reporting abuse to the various platforms …

She was forced to deactivate her account – especially when several large, verified accounts began inciting further harassment. She reported the abuse to the social media sites in question, as did members of her family – but was disappointed at the lack of action.

A side point here is that social media companies really do need to be legally obliged to take action. They generally pay lip service to such actions only.

I was recently posting about the Disinformation Dozen. There are just 12 people who churn out about 60% of the anti-vaccine information in circulation. Shut down those accounts and something meaningful would truly have happened, but no, they don’t because such churn generates revenue.

The observation that these twelve continue pumping out disinformation of social media even after a very public notification in the form of an official report is rather clear evidence of the utter inaction of various platforms.

Point 3 – Why is it like this, why all the abuse

As a reporter, she reached out and engaged directly with some of those that send her threats. She was seeking to find out what was really going on and this is what she found …

From my experience of speaking to those who send me abuse, it appears to be down to a combination of deep distrust, personal unhappiness and the online disinhibition effect – that lack of restraint when communicating online.

What can you actually do personally?

She advises …

Removing personal details that could jeopardise personal safety might seem extreme, but in the short term it’s a very important method of protection. Suspending or locking accounts can stem the immediate flow of abuse. 

The golden mantra is “Don’t engage the trolls”. You are under no obligation to reply, simply block and ignore.

However, she also notes that there is a grassroots push-back against social media that is also starting to emerge …

A coalition of English football’s largest organisations including the Football Association, Premier League, EFL, Women’s Super League and Kick It Out will be boycotting social media this weekend in an attempt to hold the Big Tech companies accountable for what they believe is a failure to address this issue. 

This follows footballers speaking out about the racist abuse they repeatedly experience online. England cricket and Premiership Rugby have also signed up to the boycott.

Why not join them. Commit yourself to personally boycott social media this coming weekend.

Journalist and academic Julie Posetti points out that …

“You have to shine the light on the dark, private spaces of the internet and speak up to raise awareness if you want to see change,”

The time for change is long past its best-before date. Social Media organizations have a moral duty of care to those that utilise their platforms, that moral duty needs to urgently be translated into a legal duty.

In the UK this means that the delayed “Online Harms Bill” needs to be turned into a reality.

Online Abuse – Tweets

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