Dealing With Twitter Trolls

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Mhairi Hunter

Ungagged asked me to expand a bit on a recent twitter thread on social media abuse and I’m happy to do so. I emphasise these are just my personal views but I hope they are helpful. I have made all the mistakes over the years so you don’t have to.

I have been on twitter since 2010. I’ve seen it get bigger and uglier and been through various stages of trying to handle abuse from challenging it, to RTing it, to blocking it and finally muting it. For me, muting it is the best solution. I’ll tell you why.

Challenging it is pointless. Someone abusing you on twitter knows they’re being horrible so there’s no point in telling them that, they want to upset you and make you angry. If you challenge them they will only get worse. The same goes for RTing abuse. I know people sometimes do this to highlight it, but this simply invites other users to join in and participate in a nasty squalid fight that will just leave you drained and depressed.

Blocking people can also make them worse, I’ve had people set up new accounts so they can continue to have a go at me because I blocked them. I do block people in some circumstances but I find muting people is much better at just getting rid of them from my timeline and mentions.

I’ve muted many hundreds of people and twitter is much better for that. I have muted people on the No side and I have muted people on the Yes side. In my opinion a lot of nonsense is talked about the relationship between political positioning and social media abuse. The fact is you get toxic people across the board. Twitter gives you the option to mute them, so use that option. Mute them, forget about them. If they really cross the line, block and report them. And remember – on your twitter you decide what the line is.

If someone threatens you or another person don’t hesitate to go to the police. It may not result in action being taken there and then but you are still providing intelligence which may enable action to be taken at a future point if the perpetrator is following a pattern of behaviour.

I have also thought about my own use of twitter. Quote-tweeting is something I do less and less now due to the way it can instigate pile-ons if you have an above-average number of followers. I realised I was guilty of that after I quote-tweeted what I thought was a particularly silly comment from a political journalist, poking fun at him. My tweet wasn’t malicious or intended to be. I was just taking the piss. But a lot of the replies to my tweet copied in the journalist, were quite abusive and it just went on and on and on.

Coincidentally there was a recent discussion on twitter about why a well-known unionist blogger had been blocked by a large number of SNP MPs. I had blocked this chap myself after he RTd me, leading to a stream of nasties in my mentions. (If you want to stop someone being able to RT you directly, you need to block them).

Probably the blogger didn’t intend to set the flying monkeys on me – any more than I had intended to set them on the journalist – but just didn’t really think about it before quote-tweeting something he saw as silly. We all need to learn that lesson. If you instigate pile-ons, either wittingly or unwittingly, people are entitled to block you. And, for the avoidance of doubt, MPs are people.

I also have to mention twitter clyping in this context – this describes the situation where someone tweets a comment about another person and a different user replies @ing that person in. If the original tweeter wanted to @ the person into their tweet they would have done so. Don’t do it for them because it can result in a confrontation they don’t want.

Inevitably we come to the vexed subject of misogyny. There has been a great deal written about the level of sexual abuse and threats sent to women so I won’t add too much to it. It’s ugly stuff. And the more high-profile a woman is, the worse it gets.

Some may think that high-profile twitter targets never actually have to read the abuse directed at them but they (or people around them) do have to, because they need to assess if they contain any credible threats. The recent Westminster Hall debate which allowed women MPs to talk about the horrific abuse they received was, I hope, an eye opener for some. And, as in life, it’s worse if you are a black woman, a lesbian, a Jew, because misogynists are so often bigots too.

Plus, for all women, twitter tends to have the same double standards as you get in real life – men are assertive, women are aggressive, men are confident, women are arrogant, men are witty, women are silly and childish. And be careful about telling jokes – some men really don’t like it!

So why do I stay on this hellsite? Well, for one thing I rather enjoy being silly and childish on twitter. Twitter at its best is joyous, I have had so many good laughs over the years. For another, I have genuinely made some good pals who I would miss if I left – and that applies to people on both sides of the constitutional divide. So I’m sticking around with my mute button at the ready. Otherwise I’d have to go back to facebook and that would be a fate worse than death.

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