What Those Twitter Policy Changes Really Mean

A day after the Twitter Silence and the Shouting Back campaigns have ended, the upswing of both campaigns seem to have resulted in changes over on Twitter. Reporting violations of the Twitter Terms of Service (TOS), rules and policies can be done from a smartphone or online. The option available on smartphones will be available to Android users and web users within 30 days.

But people have to remember that just because they’ve reported a Tweet or a Twitter user doesn’t automatically mean that the Twitter user is suspended. You see, what one person may see as a breach of terms may not be a breach of terms per se.

Some people perceive an opinion that differs from their own as bullying or abuse or harassment when it’s nothing more than a difference of opinion. In other words, freedom of speech is not the same as hate speech or uttering death threats, and that’s where some people go wrong when they don’t like what someone else has to say on any given topic.

It all comes down to is this: If a user challenges another user’s opinion with a different opinion of his own, there’s no bullying or abuse in that. But if a user posts or poses a viable threat to another user, that’s a completely different situation.

The whole issue of Twitter abuse is one that is fraught with personal interpretations. While anyone would be hard pressed to find someone who believes that “threatening, abusive or insulting words” likely to “cause harassment, alarm or distress” as Caitlin Moran says, are appropriate.

But there’s also reason to be concerned about how the new Twitter policy will be implemented.

You see, having been targeted by a self-professed autism ambassador and anti-bullying campaigner a couple years back, I have first hand knowledge about how some of these cyberbullies operate while flying under the radar of both the police and social media rules.

First off, they start with a fake claim that they are being victimized by their target when they can’t get what they want from their target.  In my case, he tried many times over the course of a few days to force me to add him to my list of friends on another social media platform.  When that didn’t work, he began to “Follow” me via his multiple Twitter accounts which I blocked from following immediately.  I finally had to resort to sending him an email directing him to stop with this behavior.

My reason for not accepting the repeated friend requests and blocking his multiple Twitter accounts from following me was simple: He isn’t someone with whom I would associate myself in real life, either professionally or personally.

It seems that it was unconscionable (in his eyes) that he should be rejected for any reason whatsoever.

He began tweeting to his followers that I was a vile woman and anti-autistic (among other false allegations).  Since ignoring him and his followers wasn’t working, I did what so many anti-bullying websites tell targets to do:  I began keeping copies of the abuse in a separate file, and told other people what was happening.   Yes, I stopped keeping the behavior of this bully and his followers to myself, and spoke out against what he was doing to me.

What ensued was the enlisting of his many followers to falsely report me to Twitter as much as possible, to nominate my Twitter account for a Shorty for rude things (I won’t provide details on the rude things, but I’m sure many of you will be able to figure out what some of those rude things might have been), to create fake accounts misappropriating my copyrighted materials for the purpose of libeling me, and generally to attempt to make me feel like a prisoner in my own home and unable to go out on the Internet without the fear of being threatened, harassed, abused and bullied. When those tactics didn’t work, he attempted to file a false report against me with the local police department. And in the end, he went after my teen and tried to deep six a fundraiser my son had put together for a non-profit organization.

The reason all of my bully’s efforts didn’t succeed is because he’s just doesn’t factor into my life on any level, and so giving him an emotional reaction and handing over control of my life to him isn’t going to happen no matter how hard he keeps at this sort of behavior.

But with the new Twitter policy, I have to ask myself if he’s going to start up with a new tactic — that of having his cybermob falsely report me for harassment when I have nothing to do with him online or in real life. I’m sure he will. After all, it was just a few months back that one of his online friends joined a Facebook group where I was a long-time member and began spreading lies which she attributed directly to this man. That’s how I know he hasn’t given up on bullying me.

So while I applaud Twitter for taking the matter of online abuse and bullying very seriously, I’m not holding my breath that very much will change, and if it does change, it may not be for the better. It could be that bullies and stalkers have only found a more efficient way to target their victims.

In the end, if you’re on any kind of social media (and most everyone is these days), maybe it’s time to ask just how social the media really is, and then to make decisions about your involvement with social media based on what fits best with your professional and personal lives.

There will always be bands of malcontents with whom to contend, and from time to time, there will be a bully or two who lead the pack in an attempt to knock you down for some perceived slight they hold against you, but in the end, you control your life online and in the real world.  Don’t let the negativity of others determine where you can and can’t go.  Be brave and don’t feed the trolls.

Elyse Bruce


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