Jane Binnion column

Jane Binnion.
Jane Binnion.

We’ve all heard of people that harass, bully and threaten others anonymously online.

People who use the internet to start arguments or upset people by posting inflammatory messages are known as trolls.

Trolling more recently has become synonymous with online harassment and there’s been some pretty nasty stories recently, such as Stella Creasy, the shadow Labour minister who received rape and death threats via Twitter when she backed a campaign to keep a picture of a woman on the £5 note. Then this month there were two big stories.

One, that Internet trolls could face up to two years in jail under new laws.

Currently the Malicious Communications Act allows a maximum of six months prison.

Then there was the death of Brenda Leyland, the woman who had recently been identified as using twitter to target the McCann family.

She died three days after she was confronted by a Sky News reporter.

After being exposed on TV she herself came under vicious attacks.

She was a 63 year old middle class church goer, not the image that most of us have in mind when we think of trolls.

So what’s it all about? If I ever to do a PhD it will be on people that post threatening and hurtful messages anonymously.

Are they so passionate about an issue that they can’t see how it’s got out of control? Are they bored, lonely, in need of attention? Or are they ill?

Is expressing your opinion strongly, in a way that may offend others, the same as threatening people? Brenda Leyland thought she had a right to free speech.

But there seems to be something that happens when we communicate via a screen rather than with a physical person.

We seem able to say things that we wouldn’t say face to face. Sometimes that may be useful, but the big problem is the instant nature of it.

We type a rant and it’s out there before we got to think it trough.

I recommend that people keep away from social media when grumpy or drunk, but we also need to try to remember that it’s a human being, not a computer, on the receiving end of our words.