The Sunday Sessions

Several things I wanted to blog about, so little time before conk out time…

A man has been arrested over the rape threats to Caroline Criado-Perez, the woman at the forefront of the successful campaign to get a woman on a bank note. Sadly the threats are wholly unremarkable, as they represent pretty typical behaviour on twitter and online generally. It is somehow okay to make serious threats of sexual or physical violence or to verbally abuse and humiliate people with whom you disagree, but particularly women. I have seen this sort of thing many times before and it is extreme and utterly abhorrent. It happened with Katie Hopkins, it happened with Mary Beard – the unusual feature of the Criado-Perez case is that the police appear to be taking some action. About time, they’ve wasted enough time arresting people for abusing poppies, making jokes or being twits – but there is no level on which threatening to rape someone or describing sexual acts that you would like to perform on them is acceptable or funny and its about time that we found a better way of dealing with it than hoping forlornly that not feeding the trolls or shaming the trolls will somehow fix this.

Next. If you haven’t already you should read the report of the Judicial Working Group on Litigants in Person, covered by Richard Moorhead here (yes, I know it’s been out a while).

Next. The Fourth Instalment of the President’s View has been released to critical acclaim (see the FLBA Guidance Locator here). The proposed Transparency provisions are interesting – in essence most judgments will be published including names of social workers and experts.

In other news, we caught 15 crabs today and ate too much tapas.

12 thoughts on “The Sunday Sessions

  1. It is not particularly women receiving vile abuse on twitter – That is the line fed in the Guardian and similar media outlets but the problem is similar if not far worse for men.

    The many men victims of death threats, vile abuse and similar e.g. Tom Daley (Diver) – Duncan Bannatyne (Dragons Den) – James Maclean (footballer) and loads of other footballers – Tommy Robinson (EDL leader) – Curtis Woodhouse (boxer) – Alan Davies (Comedian) etc.

    You get it the list is endless…. Perpetrators of abuse are men and women. Two teenage girls threatened a rape victim with death and bodily harm on Twitter. Both teens were charged with the intimidation of a rape victim, aggravated menacing and telecommunications harassment in the US recently.

    It’s good the Police are chasing perpetrators but it is not good if it is based merely on the victim being a woman. All victims deserve the same response to abuse or threats, whatever their gender, race, sexuality or political views.

    The problem is that certain interests always want to paint these problems as affecting women only or in the majority e.g. The Guardian

    • Chambers I have to disagree. There are I’m sure instances of threats of sexual violence towards men, and there certainly are many of physical violence – but the question of threats of sexual violence directed at women is a particular issue for women. And I agree with you about the fact that perpetrators of such abuse are both male and female – shockingly it ISN’T always by men wishing rape upon women – I have seen quite a lot of extremely violent and offensive sexual threats directed by women at other women who are somehow seen to be letting the side down. I certainly wouldn’t suggest that the police should only be chasing perpetrators of abuse aimed at women – they should adopt a similar approach towards similar threats against men (incidentally I seem to recall that there were some arrests following at least two of the male cases you refer to, none of which were rape threats – although I may be wrong).
      Yes there is lots of violent and abusive language on twitter – and whilst I don’t condone it I also think that we need to be a little bit thick skinned about remarks made on an instantaneous medium – causing offence should not be prohibited but harassing and threatening should. BUT…The character of some of these sexual threats is really quite abhorrent and out of the range of acceptable conduct and it is that specific problem which I am driving at. You should really read some of it some time and then consider whether or not the same type of stuff is directed at men with such ease. I don’t think it is. And its something of an eyebrow raiser that the police have not been rushing to bash down peoples doors for every rape threat in the way they have about other, some would say, more trivial matters.

  2. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: communications by computer are not in principle different from any other sort of communications. In the light of that let’s consider the demands being made of Twitter.

    Would we want Royal Mail to open all our letters to see if they contained something objectionable? No, we wouldn’t, even if that meant that letters, anonymous or not, threatening rape or worse were never delivered. So no, Twitter should not filter all tweets just in case. Not that the types who send such things would not find a way round it.

    Then there’s the proposed “Report Abuse” button. I don’t use Twitter or Facebook; they seem to be full of the sort of ephemeral twaddle which is fine or at least tolerable in casual conversation, but which should disappear after being heard. But I was under the impression that Twitter has a report-abuse function.

    And today on the goggle-box a journalist confirmed that it has. But it’s complicated and can take ten minutes, and that’s not practical when you get showers of abusive messages like the woman with the obsession about bank-notes. And Twitter does not act fast enough.

    Now, if you got a letter or phone-call threatening rape, and you reported it to the police (not to Royal Mail or BT who are mere carriers) you would expect them to take it seriously, and so they should. But you would expect to spend at least ten minutes over making the complaint, even if you did not have to go to the nick to do it; and you would not expect the Boys and Girls in Blue to arrest the perpetrator that very moment, even if his or indeed her identity was apparent. Yet somehow because it is happening on a computer there is an expectation of instant action. To be sure, Twitter might introduce a bulk system so that you could select a whole lot of tweets and go through the procedure once – if it is technically practical. Beyond that what can anyone expect?

    It is also obvious that a one-click reporting system would be the trollers’ wet dream; they could gum up the works by reporting all a victim’s tweets as abusive – and they would.

    A journo who got abusive letters of this sort addressed to her at her office might be less bothered than if they somehow reached the home address which she probably guards carefully. But by going on these sites you are effectively posting if not your private address then at least your home phone number. I’m not excusing threats of rape; I’m saying that the kooks of this world are out there, and they have access to computers as they do to phones and the post – and the rest follows.

    And of course there will be people who find ways of making themselves untraceable on line, just as there are people who send anonymous letters or make threatening phone-calls from such public telephones as still exist. That’s life.

    If the price of liberty is eternal vigilance, then the price of a free internet is a great deal of evil material involving the abuse of children or Holocaust denial, and (which is less troubling) endless silly conspiracy theories – we all know that Lord Lucan is on tour on Shergar and that Elvis shot Princess Di from the grassy knoll. The printing-press, the postal service, the telephone, the camera, the digital camera, and social networks have all created opportunities for ways of being thoroughly nasty to each other. You can’t get the toothpaste back in the tube, and you can’t stop the abuse of all those devices.

    Rant ends.

    • Andrew, Royal Mail is fundamentally different. Royal Mail are not a publisher. Threatening letters are not public, nor an invitation for a mob to join in. I take your point with the report abuse button – I am sanguine about how well it could ever work in practice, although I do think that twitter and the likes ought to be trying a lot harder. Clearly it is impossible to stop this sort of conduct, but as a society there is more we can do to send a message that it is unacceptable and has consequences. Shaming on twitter doesn’t seem to work consistently well, and ignoring has its own ideological difficulties – why SHOULD someone retreat from twitter because of other idiots? But it seems to me that if criminal prosecution for a face to face death or rape threat or other form of harassment is an appropriate reaction to such conduct then it is equally appropriate in twitter cases – and I think the DPP guidance allows for that.

  3. familoo, I was talking about vile abuse of all kinds (far beyond the offensive) plus threats of physical violence and death threats, I was not focusing simply on threats of sexual violence which are presently in the media and authorities sights.

    There is no reliable research as far as I know and I doubt if they would be worth very much anyway, but I would still wager that men are as likely or more likely to be the victims of abuse and threats as women on twitter/facebook etc.

    I think because women are generally treated with kid gloves by men in all sorts of social interactions, it is more of a shock to the general public when women are the victims of abuse and threats rather than men. After all as in many areas, men are expected to get on with it and women to be protected by the authorities and the media. Although this is an evermore dwindling situation.

    Don’t get me wrong, there are a significant proportion of men and women who treat women abysmally and criminally on social media etc – But in general women are not attacked in the numbers on social media (as far as I can see) or physically as men are. Just look at the rates of actual violence – 2% women against 4% of men who are victims of violence.

    To focus on women victims as the Guardian and such always do, means that men the majority men victims are yet again ignored in favour of the easily digested story of misogyny, rather than the real problem of threats and violence against people in general.

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/news/datablog/2012/nov/22/women-criminal-justice-system-statistics-representation

    I know you are focussed on rape threats in this article via social media but it is in reality a very small problem compared to vast majority of death threats and other vile abuse heaped on people (men and women) on these platforms. It is small beer (however unpleasant, criminal and offensive) again, compared to the actual numbers of victims of violent crime who are men in double the numbers of women. Let’s not talk about the homicide rate which has an even larger disparity in favour of women, 2/3 being men victims.

    Just saying that these very recent offensive and perhaps criminal acts on Twitter should always be seen in context.

    I support the Police actions and the call for an abuse button.

    • Chambers, as you note you and I are having a conversation about rather different things. Of course threats of rape on twitter to women is not the same thing as actual physical violence by men on men. I wasn’t talking about the latter and my comments don’t apply to them. I don’t agree with you though that the thing I was talking about is in fact a very small problem. That, with respect, is a matter of perspective. Of course it must be seen in context but it does you no credit to minimise the seriousness of the topic you have chosen to intervened in. And again, with respect, I don’t think an open and quite public threat to penetrate, injure, humiliate a woman (many women many threats) is evidence that society treats women with kid gloves. There is a perception that feminism is over and there is no gender discrimination any more – it’s wrong. There is gender discrimination of all sorts out there, and some of it is directed at men – but the rates of overall actual violence do not help us much on this point. Men and women are victims and perpetrators of violence in different circumstances and contexts. And the same goes for threatening behaviour.

  4. Royal Mail is a carrier – but you would not expect them to censor even postcards.

    I remain of the view that Twitter and FB and ISPs should be regarded as carriers, not publishers, and not responsible for content – responsibility should lie with the true publisher – and if s/he is untraceable or not good for the money, too bad. I fear that we will get into a sort of compensation culture mentality in which it is assumed that when something nasty happens there must be somebody readily at hand with a long purse or an insurance policy who will pay.

    • Its nothing to do with money or compensation Andrew – its to do with respect and criminality. What is unacceptable face to face is unacceptable electronically. Twitter and forums like it give vile people greater reach and greater ability to cause harm and distress.

  5. This Lady (Judgy Bitch) has a very rational take on it all.
    http://judgybitch.com/2013/07/29/policing-twitter-is-dumb/

  6. “What is unacceptable face to face is unacceptable electronically. Twitter and forums like it give vile people greater reach and greater ability to cause harm and distress.”

    My point exactly. So did the post and the phone. And there’s nothing to be done about the post – except try to keep our private addresses private – and not much about the phone – except be ex-directory. Twitter and the forums are not to be held civilly or criminally liable for what people say on them and nor are they to be expected to do more than is reasonable – and compatible with not having any form of censorship – to filter them.

  7. familoo, in your article you state women are particularly the recipients of – “serious threats of sexual or physical violence or to verbally abuse and humiliate people with whom you disagree”.

    You did not confine it to merely threats of sexual violence.

    I have pointed out that the reality is that men are just as likely to be the victims of threats and abuse on social media, in actual violence and threats being carried out men are twice as likely to be the victims.

    You then in your post 7 talk about physical violence ‘only’ and only men on men violence. Whereas the reality is that men (as women) are victims of abuse, threats and physical violence from both men and women.

    It does not matter what the gender, race, sexuality of the perpetrator of abuse and physical violence – The fact is men are largest victims of these crimes according to government figures.

    It does you no credit to dismiss this and focus merely on one version of abuse, because the victims are generally women, or at least those victims who the media ‘The Guardian’ etc highlight and focus on.

    As a feminist (I like to think in the real meaning of the word), I believe wholly in equal opportunities, responsibilities and rights for women and men in all social, economic and political areas.

    Nothing more, not positive discrimination in certain areas for women and in other areas for men, simply equal opportunities and rights for both but that is another discussion.

    I won’t be commenting any more.

  8. I have just stumbled across this blog.

    Originally I agreed that rape threats to women were what made Twitter and Facebook the work of the devil – so much so that I hope never to look at them- but I agree that death threats to both sexes are almost as bad. Almost, because murder for ideological reasons is thankfully rare in the UK, but I suspect rape as a way of putting down a female who is too uppity is not so rare.

    I can’t imagine why people think what they say on these media doesn’t count. Surely it is no different from an anonymous but published letter? Isn’t there a criminal offence here? (Delves into law studies of 40 years ago- incitement to commit a crime – conspiracy- etc etc)

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