What constitutes harassment? The dictionary, in simple terms, defines harass as “to create an unpleasant or hostile situation for especially by uninvited and unwelcome verbal or physical conduct”, and according to US Legal, it is a class A misdemeanor to harass someone “anonymously or otherwise” by written or electronic means.
The online article “We’re the reason we can’t have nice things on the internet” by Whitney Phillips attempts to stop internet trolls and to recognize the harassment that happens online.
So why aren’t we banning these “trolls” from ever using Twitter and other platforms when they are being abusive to communities of people? I would assume it is because there is a fine line to this freedom of speech that we are dealing with. Ethics with the internet and ever-changing technology are often blurred from black and white to many shades of gray. Many of these harassers aren’t always point-blank attacking one person. The things people say that are harassing in nature can be manufactured to the point that it is hard to really accuse them of directly targeting someone (see subtweets). People are able to hide behind their screens in two ways: they can say things that they would never have the courage to say to someone in person, and they can plea innocence that their attacks were, “playful, disruptive for disruption’s sake, or fundamentally trivial.”
That being said, most recently, I have decided to stay off Twitter because I have felt that I am the receiving end of hatred. It isn’t directly aimed at me, but at my lifestyle and beliefs. In the community that I live in right now, I see a lot of people antagonizing The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, of which, of course, I am a member. But the point was that I have the choice, as a user, to respond to these statements. People need to recognize that they have the ability to leave, logout, unfollow, or delete things from their online lives that bring them down. We cannot control what other people put out there. This is freedom of speech. We can, however, control our reactions.
In some ways this article makes me feel something very inspiring to try and stop these types of people that are active antagonizers. However, I believe entirely in the freedom of speech that constitutes the first amendment of our Constitution. People need places to discuss, and unfortunately, there will always be opposition. Manually shutting off comments or content is not the answer. I think the best way is to drown out the negativity is by supplying positive and educational content.