If you post a negative comment about someone online is that just harmless banter, or cyberbullying? What about freedom of speech?
Cyberbullying (AKA Trolling) is bombarding someone online with insults and threats.
The rise of social media and online chatrooms has made it a lot easier for people to engage in cyberbullying. It’s a lot easier to say something nasty online, rather than to someone’s face. Victims of trolling can be celebrities but can also be ordinary people.
Cyberbullying can be as simple as leaving a hateful comment on someone’s profile, all the way up to posting naked pictures of someone online, or threatening them.
Apps like Tripadvisor, where you can rate restaurants and hotels, are often hijacked by trolls. In some cases the trolls haven’t even visited the restaurant they are slamming.
As soon as a high-profile news story breaks, you can bet that people online will be expressing their views pretty vocally. There’s nothing wrong with expressing an opinion, but often people go a step too far. Charlotte Proudman, the barrister who called out sexism online received a barrage of death threats and menacing messages.
As with regular bullying, what can seem to the bully as harmless banter can be experienced by the victim as cyberbullying.
Defining cyberbullying is a question of proportion. Posting a single joke, or negative comment could be seen as harmless, but if this happens regularly then it could be seen as trolling.
However, even a single comment can be damaging, especially if you haven’t asked for feedback. That’s why everyone is getting vocal about a new app called Peeple. This app allows you to rate and review people you know, just like Tripadvisor.
People are irked because there is no way to opt out from being rated. The Telegraph describes how you can rate other people even if they don’t have the app, by simply entering their mobile number. To remove the review they have to sign up to the app themselves.
Peeple CEO Julia Cordray said “You’re going to rate people in the three categories that you can possibly know somebody — professionally, personally or romantically”.
Ratings and reviews are not anonymous, something which the developers hope will prevent trolling and increase the amount of positive reviews. If someone calls you out with a negative review you get a 48 hour window to sort things with them before the comment is posted online.
It could be argued that Peeple users should be allowed to air their views. You know, freedom of speech and all that. Despite this people are still worried this is basically a trolling app; whereas some others are going to give Peeple a chance.
Cordray acknowledges that “there seems to be some fear and I have a lot of empathy for that… But I’m going to lead by example and show that this app is actually more positive than it ever could be negative.”
Which is fair enough, but as Cordray also says that we “deserve to see where you could improve” perhaps the negative comments about aspects of the Peeple app should be used to improve it?
Some are calling for Peeple to be banned by the app store – others think governments can do much more to stop trolling ruining lives.
Is Peeple a good or bad thing? Let us know;
— Scenes of Reason (@scenesofreason) October 1, 2015
The number of cyberbullying victims in the UK is on the rise. A man called Sean Duffy was jailed in 2011 for posting insulting and insensitive messages about people who had died. In 2013 a teenage girl committed suicide after being bullied online.
Yet for now there is no specific law against cyberbullying.
We have three different laws; the Malicious Communications Act, the Communications Act and the Protection from Harassment Act. Overkill much?
Messages which show intent to cause physical harm or violence, harassment or stalking will get you into trouble. But the Crown Prosecution Service (the guys who take you to court) is quite strict about who gets served.
Children who are unlikely to know the damage their comments may cause are unlikely to be prosecuted.
The UK government has just released a new anti-trolling website to help victims of cyberbullying. Should we go further, following New Zealand in making cyberbullying illegal?
New Zealand’s anti-trolling law was voted this year. It focuses on hate speech – so racism, sexism, homophobia are all no-goes. Trolls using offensive language or bullying people could end up with a fine or even jail time.
Despite most New Zealand MPs voting in favour of the new law many people worry it will limit freedom of speech. They say people offended by jokes, satirical articles or opinion pieces could use the law to attempt to get them removed.
Trolling is becoming a real problem, but is restricting people’s comments online prohibiting freedom of speech?
Should the UK create a specific cyberbullying law? Are apps like Peeple just a harmless bit of tech, or something more sinister?
If you or someone you know is the victim of cyberbullying, Childline offers support and has guidance pages about what to do.