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Twitter, Anita Sarkeesian and the Ensuing War on Trolls

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If trolls were real, living entities (and the former Norwegian Prime Minister would have you believe that they are), I would imagine they’d be pretty ticked at the moment. Their once proud name has been besmirched by a whole subculture of offensive, unacceptable behaviour. Now ‘troll’ is a catch-all term for basically any unpleasant online action, be it intended in jest, maliciousness or baiting.

In the past couple of years it’s become worse than ever, social media platforms have been routinely failing to account for it, people are being driven off line and disputes which should be private are being blown out of all proportion. It’s a trolling epidemic. Few people out there have born more of the troll brunt than video-blogger and activist Anita Sarkeesian.

Since 2009, she has been hosting her Feminist Frequency series on YouTube, picking the gaming industry apart and pinpointing numerous examples of latent misogyny present therein. She doesn’t do this to hate on gaming, she’s an avid player herself, she is simply trying to help find a better way.

Last year, in the wake of a nasty, petty public assault against developer Zoe Quinn, the ongoing controversy known as Gamergate erupted and Sarkeesian found herself on the receiving end of an avalanche of troll-based hatred. She was (and continues to be) subjected to prejudice, abuse and even threats of rape and murder, so much so that she has had to retool her lifestyle with heightened security in order to even feel safe.

She hasn’t let it stop her saying what she wants to say though and during the Women in the World summit last week she made her views on trolling culture abundantly clear. Flanked by actress Ashley Judd, New York Times writer Emily Bazelon, California Attorney General Kamala D. Harris and reporter Katie Couric, Sarkeesian made it clear that ‘trolling’ as a term, concept and phenomenon needs to be permanently removed from society.

During the talk the women all agreed that the key is to force government bodies to become more tech-savvy in order to better enforce sanctions against offensive and threatening behavior online. Judd in particular had to employ a legal team to sift through every nasty tweet she received and highlight the ones against which legal action was applicable.

Twitter CEO Dick Costolo (David Paul Morris/Bloomberg/Getty Images) via Wired.com

Equally though, more work can be done from the people who build the roads as well and the ones who regulate the traffic. Twitter have been under fire a lot recently for being too soft on trolling and now they are finally taking definitive action against it. A recent update has equipped the platform with more stringent measures against threatening tweets, it also takes the age of the account posting the material into consideration, as well as past posting history, number of followers/following and other material that might indicate a frothing vitriol dispenser perching on the other end of the feed, clawing at the keyboard with bony fingers marinated in grease and hatred.

Their definition of violent language/behaviour is also becoming more broad, so as to make it easier to issue warnings and lead investigative entities to the problem people. One of the most well-known trolls out there recently got slapped with a conspiring to incite racial hatred charge, I won’t utter the name, but let’s just say it was a long time coming. There’s a fine line between keeping people safe from threat online and marring freedom of speech and trolling is never going to go away entirely, but hopefully this kind of momentum will stem the grime-spewing.

Callum Davies

Callum is a film school graduate who is now making a name for himself as a journalist and content writer. His vices include flat whites and 90s hip-hop. Follow him @CallumAtSMF

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Twitter, Anita Sarkeesian and the Ensuing War on Trolls Reviewed by Callum Davies on Wednesday, April 29, 2015 Rating: 5

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