Tuesday, 7 October 2014

#Sweepyface, Twitter and the "Blurred Line" Between Trolling and Freedom of Speech Online

On this blog, I have often said that freedom of speech and opinion is one of my most important beliefs in society. Something that should be promoted and protected.

Being able to form an opinion of your own- even if its completely opposite to what everyone around you thinks- is something I promote with my children and always will. Don't get me wrong, I'm not talking "argument for arguments sake". I'm of the opinion that if you feel you can justify having an opposing opinion, then you have every right to voice it, and spark debate through it.

The problem is, modern etiquette. Social media, encompassing blogs, Vlogs, Twitter, and the rest, however big or small, are read only devices. I have fallen foul of this on several occasions. By design I'm sarcastic, but sarcasm can be taken completely the wrong way when tone is absent down to it being on a screen.

In the last few days, the tag of Troll has very much come front and centre and whether having an opinion, and tweeting it, constitutes freedom to voice an opinion over being a troll. If you simply tweet about a person or situation, but not @ them in this tweet (or, in the case of Sweepyface, tweet opinions about someone who does not use Twitter), does this still make you a troll?

To my mind, a Troll is the kind of person who threatens to hurt someone in a violent way, such as what Stella Creasey experienced last year. Or someone who I have encountered who just goes all out to cause utter distress directly to the person they decide they don't like (or even to go as far as to cause me personal issues by pretending they are me on forums I was never a member of). These people don't bother me very much anymore as most are snide enough to be abusive, but not so brave as to put their name to it.

However, with Sweepyface, I feel strongly that the tag of "Troll" is being used as the situation she was voicing an opinion of is one that many people online have an opinion of but which is felt it cannot be voiced.

I have always maintained in my own social circles that I believe that, whilst the McCann's never foresaw what happened to their daughter, they were negligent and lax to have left her. I am aware that most people will be shocked at my voicing this. But I can't help thinking that, had they have been from a council estate and claiming benefits, they would have been vilified and arrested for neglect. Instead, they are posh, well to do, Doctor and wife, so we all use soothing voices.

I don't believe they "deserved" what happened. I don't believe that they don't probably beat themselves up about it day in and out. But, fundamentally, the person I feel sorry for in this instance is Maddie. Pure and simple.

I'm not one for tweeting that as its the "opinion that dares not speak its name". However, Sweepyface- along with quite a number of others- did.

Did she deserve, before a Police Officer even came to her home, or any legal action was taken, to be doorstepped by a Sky News Journo? No. She didn't.

Sky acted in an appalling manner when they did that, and surely, if there had of been a Police Investigation into her Tweets, and subsequent case against her, it was detrimental to any case for them to taken that action. And why just Sweepyface? Why not doorstep a few of the apparent hundreds of people online who use the #Mccann hashtag and forums full of conspiracy theories to voice a negative opinion of the parents?

Now, a woman is dead.

And yet, still agencies refer to her as a troll.

It leaves an unwelcome taste in my mouth.

There is an ever increasing blurred line between freedom of speech and troll behavior.

Clearly, as times change and more and more is spoken about online, there needs to be very strong guidelines about what constitutes bullying or offensive use of social media.

Or Sweepyface will be the start of a dark period for social media and and its place in the voicing of opinions.

1 comment:

  1. I absolutely get what you're saying and agree to a certain extent there are blurred lines. But in this case I disagree. Her tweets were personal, thought through and designed to cause upset. Voicing her opinion as to whether they were culpable or even, as she stated, involved in her death, is one thing, she said she hoped they suffered for a life time, made remarks about appearances and other horrid stuff. She is dead, it is hugely sad but doesn't negate her actions any more than being 'posh' should negate guilt.
    Having read her tweets I find it hard to argue she was simply voicing an opinion. Because, sadly, she is dead, doesn't mean she isn't a troll.

    With freedom of speech comes a responsibility to stand by what you say. If you are happy to put it in a public arena then you should be aware of the possible consequences. I'm not condoning Sky's actions but you can't write what she did and rely on a cloak of anonymity while the recipients of your opinion are laid bare.

    I think we use a soothing voice because these people have gone through something we all hope we never have to face, something no one can comprehend. Freedom of speech is hugely important and should be protected but so should humility, empathy and compassion for a family and I would stand by that whatever their class.

    I enjoyed reading this, thanks for writing and getting me thinking!


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