Is Twitter really able to handle abuse?

Questions have again been raised over the lawful use of social media following the serious threats of rape made against Caroline Criado-Perez, who campaigned to have women included on bank notes and recently succeeded in having Jane Austen being presented as the face of the new £10 notes. However, Ms Criado-Perez’s campaign brought out the sinister side of social media, and highlighted again that free speech does not permit people to voice threats and violence against other people over the internet. The forum for the row this time was Twitter, where Ms Criado-Perez was threatened with rape and other violence by anonymous users on the micro blogging site. She attempted to report the matter to Twitter, using their online tools but was met with deafening silence, meaning that she had no choice but to report the matter to the Police, such was the tangible threat against her. And who can blame her for doing so? If somebody was to ring you at home and threaten to beat you and rape you, the first call that you would make would be to the Police, so why would such threats levied against you over the internet be treated any differently? Answer? They most definitely should not be treated any differently. Twitter’s response has been to encourage Ms. Criado-Perez to report the matter to the police, as they cannot arbitrate in disputes and the Police are better placed to do so. This will sound like a broken record to specialist media lawyers and all of us here at Pinder Reaux, because this is often the position Twitter takes when we deal with defamation cases, and breach of privacy cases on behalf of our clients. Twitter explains, very politely, that they often cannot arbitrate in disputes, and invite us at Pinder Reaux, on behalf of our clients, to obtain a Court Order, and then they will take the relevant action. Their response to Ms Criado-Perez’s complaint is much the same – go and tell the Police so they can deal with it. It was only the online petition and the involvement of the British government which has now brought this issue to the forefront again and resulted in the arrest of a 21 year old man from Manchester for the offences of harassment. There is no doubt that Twitter should have an easy and expeditious way to report abuse, without the need to refer to a competent authority. However, if Twitter do this for criminal complaints, they should also consider implementing a similar system where defamatory, breach of privacy and civil harassment claims are concerned. In my honest opinion it is unlikely Twitter will do anything. We have seen with recent cases, such as Tamiz v Google INC, that platforms such as Twitter place themselves in danger of being co-sued for defamation, breach of privacy etc, if they do begin to actively and substantively moderate tweets. As such, deferring to a competent judicial authority gives them a ‘get out of jail free’ card so why would they give that away? They wouldn’t and frankly I don’t think they will do anything. John Spyrou Head of Internet, Media and Sports Law @ Pinder Reaux @john_spyrou