Thu | Dec 8, 2016

Tell cyberbullies to chuck off

Published:Sunday | December 7, 2014 | 12:00 AM

Delroy Chuck thinks "we have to be careful we don't use laws to develop a society of sissies". In general, he is quite correct. Just using the word 'sissy' would have put him in deep trouble with the word-police if he were on the Government bench. He may have noticed that we're aggressively borrowing speech codes and politically correct nonsense from fuzzy-minded liberal circles in the USA.

Luckily, along the streets and lanes and among the articulate majority, people giveth not a shi**eth about the epidemic of idiocy that has infected Twitterworld and Facebookistan. But Chuck offered this insight while deliberating on cyberbullying, which the Office of the Children's Advocate wants criminalised. I want to convince Mr Chuck that cyberbullying can be quite serious and involves more than the sissyfication of the nation. So it falls to me to introduce Delroy to that creature of the cyberworld called 'the Internet troll'.

The troll comes in varieties, and in various levels of seriousness, but the distinguishing feature is that he or she sees the Internet as a place to scare and frighten other travellers. Often the anonymity of the Internet is a great help to the troll.

On top of that, it allows people of like mind to congregate and sometimes grow more extreme by reinforcing each other's ideas. The effect is that even relatively well-adjusted people can become antisocial psychos online.

Consider the comments section below any controversial article. You will find that without any special provocation, various warriors ride out to hack each other to pieces. There are rumours that some of these are mercenaries, and that is also likely, particularly when elections are close. What's certain is that, unchecked, the venom flows like tears at the Tivoli enquiry.

Cyberbullying is a special case of the Internet trolling where a person is deliberately and repeatedly harmed or harassed.

Actually, my initial reaction to this whole cyberbullying thing was exactly like Delroy's. I thought: Hey, I have the answer! If you're being bullied online, perform the following steps: 1. Turn off the computer (or the phone); 2. Go outside, talk to some real people and make some acquaintances or friends; 3. Grow a pair.

I was like: "Why so touchy?" So what if you find yourself Photoshopped online, perhaps having sex with a goat? But then I did a little more research.

Turns out it's more complicated than just growing a pair or laughing at the goat picture. Social networking is everywhere and inescapable. Even if you remove yourself, others will post pictures and narrative that includes you.

Typically, this occurs when the spurned ex-boyfriend takes revenge by broadcasting pictures originally sent in confidence. This 'revenge porn' and 'slut shaming' has become a massive problem, and I suspect it's a bigger issue than legislators realise.

EXTREME TROLLING

Even more extreme forms of trolling involve threatening and attacking a target and their family members. It's a matter England is struggling to deal with. Ched Evans is a footballer who was convicted of rape. He has served his term, and the question arose whether he should be permitted to return to his team. Unsurprisingly, views differed. One Judy Finnegan appeared on a television show and argued that because he had served his time, he should be reintegrated into football.

Naturally, many were outraged, including some pacifist social-justice warriors who, abhorring violence, took like fish to water threatening Ms Finnegan's daughter, Chloe Madeley, with rape and various other degrading punishments. The case gained lots of attention, leading Justice Secretary Chris Grayling to upgrade the offences of those found guilty of stalking, harassment, and causing fear of violence.

There are numerous stories of teens led to despair and even suicide. In fact, unsparing trolls have even turned that into dark humour. Typical of the kind of torturing post that can appear in a troubled teen's inbox is: "Have you tried suicide? No? Then stop pretending you know it isn't the answer. Come back to me when you've tried it."

THE 'GOOD' OLD DAYS

So we're not talking here about the good old days when a few verbal barbs were flung at another schoolboy. For instance, although I was never small and only periodically malnourished, I did tend to be among the youngest in my classes, and hence I grew familiar with cowering for safety. Certainly by second form, I deduced that I was in class with full-grown men with beards and jobs and children in various parishes. I, on the other hand, felt it was the height of independence to make a trip to the barber alone.

Anyway, back in June 2013, The Gleaner reported on the justice ministry's finding that, at present, the Town and Communities Act (TCA) and the Offences against the Persons Act (OAPA) were inadequate and antiquated: "The offence of threat under Section 3 (m) of the TCA must be done in public and attracts a minimal fine of $1,000. The threat in Section 18 of the OAPA relates only to threats to murder by letters or writing."

It was also reported "the committee has accepted a suggestion from the Legal Reform Department for persons to be criminally charged for using computers for malicious communication to include the issuing of threats, distribution of obscene material, which may be menacing in nature, and is likely to cause annoyance, inconvenience, distress, and or anxiety to any other persons".

It seems to me that the language, as reported, needs amendment. It is too broad, and I accept Chuck's overall sentiment of deference to free-speech concerns, that we have to leave plenty of space for people to comment, cuss, and gwaan bad. There is a part of the anarchic Internet culture that is enjoyable and creative. However, Parliament should act against the trolls who stalk, threaten, and hurt others.

n Daniel Thwaites is an attorney-at-law. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.