Opinion: Forget #twittersilence, we need to be #shoutingback

I read Kelly-Marie’s article about her ‘#twittersilence’ yesterday with great interest, and not just because I couldn’t believe that a Dr Who fan would be able to stay out of the twitter discussions on ‘Number 12’!

As a feminist, social-media addict and aspiring MP too, Kelly-Marie and I have much in common. However, it was for exactly those reasons that I decided to be part of the ‘#shoutingback’ crowd yesterday – those users who refuse to be intimidated by nasty people hiding behind their keyboards, spouting bile because they think that they can get away with it.

I’ve been utterly appalled at the abuse that campaigners like Caroline Criado-Perez have been subject to, merely for expressing their opinions.

For too long women have been told to be quiet and keep their opinions to themselves. It’s one of the reasons that I decided to get involved in politics in the first place. Not using Twitter for a day isn’t the way to get the message that we’re not going to tolerate this any longer – after all, it’s a free service and a limited boycott isn’t going to affect their bottom-line.

Does Twitter need to do more to block persistent offenders? Of course, but let’s please remember that this sort of abuse is already legislated against, and I was pleased to see Nick Clegg come out in support of Police efforts to tackle this abuse last week.

To me, silence isn’t the way to deal with online threats or bullying.

Rather than being silent on the issue let us confident women shout about it from the rooftops for ourselves, but also on behalf of those who don’t feel able to. Let us let the police do their jobs, but if all else fails, let’s treat the online bullies like the children they are and threaten to tell their mums…

* Marie Jenkins is a charity campaigner, former Party staffer and Leadership Programme candidate. She is a Councillor in Newton Abbot, South Devon.

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  • Marie – good to hear from you. Essentially I agree with you, although, I think if the silence had been general enough for a day, that would have had a salutary effect, which would then be followed by much shouting!

  • exactly why I was on twitter yesterday myself, Marie

  • Graham Martin-Royle 5th Aug '13 - 5:39pm

    I can’t be bothered with twitter but if I did, I’d be right there beside you. Well put.

  • Thanks guys! Whichever way we go about challenging the bullies, it’s great that so many people are doing it!

  • Stuart Mitchell 5th Aug '13 - 7:33pm

    If one of the problems is that Twitter is doing nothing to stop the abuse, then a boycott of Twitter seems like a perfectly valid protest to me. It is insulting to suggest that those people who took part in the boycott were giving the misogynists what they want and hiding away. Perhaps some of them used the Twitter protest as a means of drawing more attention to what they were saying elsewhere? If Caitlin Moran had simply spent yesterday hurling abuse back at the trolls on Twitter, the world would have simply yawned and taken no notice. Instead, I for one have taken the trouble to read her rationale for the boycott, and hopefully others have too.

    She said from the start that if others didn’t like her idea and wanted to do things a different way, then that was great, so I’m not quite sure why her plan has provoked such ire.

  • Stuart, thanks for taking the time to read the piece. I have no idea why people like Caitlin Moran have received such a negative response for their protest – I’m generally of the view that as long as people are standing up against this sort of abuse then we’re on to a winner. To me their chosen method doesn’t feel like the most productive, that’s all.

    By the way, shouting back isn’t just about trying to engage with trolls, but refusing to be silenced – one of the reasons that myself and many others stayed on Twitter on Sunday.

  • @ Marie Jenkins

    “For too long women have been told to be quiet and keep their opinions to themselves.”

    I keep hearing people saying things like this in this debate, which confuses me (I don’t use twitter).

    I can’t think of a situation in the last 20 Years either in a social or work environment when it would have been acceptable to tell a woman that. Come to think of it I haven’t noticed it on the comments sections of blogs like LDV. I doubt that I have a unique aura that makes a world of misogynists clam up while I’m around.

    If this phrase is being used a rhetorical device to emphasise the argument, I think the effect is to weaken it. There are genuine entrenched disadvantages for women in society (like, historically, only having maternity leave rather than parental leave) but to imagine there is some widespread shouting down of women for expressing an opinion eats away at the credibility of your argument.

    If what is really intended is to express a phenomenon that is unique to Twitter perhaps people should be more honest about it. And not just because it would make people like me, who don’t use it, feel vindicated that it is an echo chamber with too many numpties on it.

    That said arguing back is always better than leaving bad ideas unchallenged, but don’t let these people believe that they are “normal” by behaving so stupidly.

  • @ Marie

    “I have no idea why people like Caitlin Moran have received such a negative response for their protest”

    I think you have to distinguish between those like Caitlin Moran who have been *Reported* to have behaved a certain way on twitter before this event and those who have been polite to other people. I don’t think I need to rehash all the things journalists have dug up but some of the alleged comments are certainly rude to other users and quite offensive.

    Imagine I go in to the office tomorrow and a colleague tell me about her friend Jim who was stabbed in a pub the night before. I would be horrified, as would most people on being told this and Jim would receive a great deal of sympathy for the unfortunate event.

    Then consider if I were to find out that Jim several nights a week goes out to pubs and attacks people (unarmed) because he enjoys pub fights. Suddenly, I would still believe though Jim shouldn’t have been stabbed and the police should pursues his attacker, I would feel less sympathy and if Jim decided to start a campaign to raise awareness of pub violence I don’t think I would want to be involved with his campaign. If you were to ask that of a decent sample of the population you would probably find a sizable minority of people who would feel that Jim got what he deserved.

    From what I can see most of the negative reaction (talking about off twitter) has been directed at Moran and referencing her previous alleged behaviour. Perhaps as it is an issue that discussion of it should not be obscured by petty things she should have been keen to keep herself out of a campaign about abuse on twitter.

  • Caitlin Moran mostly gets criticism in response to a list of her old tweets (all still up there) which aren’t any better.

    If she apologised and deleted the objectionable tweets it would go a long way but she refuses and insists that people need to stop complaining because it was all done for fun (something said by a man in Thelma and Louise just before Louise shot him in the head because it’s no excuse) and because, for example, one was directed at a specific person she was calling homosexual and so all the other people who read her tweets have no grounds to get offended.

    I could go on, but she’s just a bad figurehead for the fight against online abuse. Hopefully someone saner will step into the fold. Marie could do better.

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