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The Problem With Twitter, by Froma Harrop
They were assailed with the usual "dumb bitch" insults and unpublishable allusions to body parts. But some tweets called for rape and painful death, threats serious enough to bring in police. Several men were arrested, ranging from a military instructor to an unemployed shut-in living with his girlfriend.
Twitter has responded by creating a "Report Tweet" button to flag a troubling tweet for review. That may deter death threats, but what good will it do for the pervasive lower-fever ugliness?
It does nothing about impersonators or "concern trolls," a special breed of pest that does mischief pretending affinity for the target. A concern troll might write, "Who can blame Susan Rice for flaunting her superb figure in a fitted black suit?" You can't call the social-media police on that, even if there were a social-media police.
The best defense, some say, is to ignore the trolls. "Don't Feed the Trolls" may be sound advice for those who consider Twitter worth the affronts. But really, no one has to be on Twitter. So you wonder how the site's numbers can grow if it's become a protected playground for sickos.
Such websites are private property. They can set rules on who may enter their living rooms. The rules may leave room for a wide range of controversial opinion, but the owner decides.
But about 85 percent of the nastiest stuff (my number, plucked from the air) would simply disappear if participants had to attach their real identities to their words. Numerous news organizations have already banned anonymous comments. Twitter can do likewise.
"Identify yourself," Twitter should demand of its posters. That or, as Jane Austen put it, "Let us have the luxury of silence."
Froma Harrop is a columnist for Creators Syndicate.