Column: Facebook has to weed out online abuse

The keyboard warriors found themselves in the one place they like least – the spotlight.

The slew of abuse which came the way of Greta Thunberg after the visit to Bristol prompted the local newspaper to do something very different, and effectively name and shame the online trolls.

They took comments posted on their own Facebook page, turned them into a story, and put faces and names to people who thought it was okay to mock, sneer, abuse and threaten the schoolgirl climate activist.

And, surprise, surprise, they were all men.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Fathers, brothers, bosses, line managers, the guy who plays on your football team or delivers your pizza.

They were all significantly older than Thunberg, and their language was typical of people who use words as weapons on social media.

One suggested she should be burnt at the stake. That was in response to someone calling Thunberg a witch.

Another said “milkshakes at the ready” – a clear reference to the weapon of choice when crowds targeted Nigel Farage during the Brexit campaign. Ironically, he also had a #bekind tag attached to his profile picture. He clearly didn’t get the message behind the sentiment.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

When police warned of a possible crush as crowds descended on the city centre, one man wrote “crush the bitch” while another suggesting slapping her with a brick and then sending her home in a flat pack – because that’s what Sweden is famous for”.

In holding up a mirror to the trolls, the Bristol newspaper hopefully made life uncomfortable for them.

I trust a few faced awkward conversations when they went to work on Monday morning. I hope families asked their dad what on Earth he was thinking – did he forget he too had a 17-year old daughter and would be the first to take action if anyone dared subject her to the same abuse and threats?

You may also be interested in:

But should they have named and shamed?

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

It’s easy to point a finger – and in this case with some justification – but there can be consequences.

People can lose their jobs, and, however dumb the comments posted were, I don’t think that is an appropriate sanction.

In many respects, the Bristol paper was doing the job Facebook ought to be doing.

The tech giant – we can’t call it a media organisation, even although that is exactly what it has become – wants engagement, so it doesn’t give newspapers, or anyone, the option of locking down comments on a story.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

It doesn’t matter how closely we check – we cannot monitor our Facebook pages 24/7.

We are reactive rather than pro-active, and with the abuse, which can come in torrents, that model isn’t fit for purpose.

I recall deleting one grossly offensive comment only to see someone re-post it via a screen grab, and then demand to know why it was still online.

I deleted it again, but by then a new thread had started, and it went on all weekend. It was like a dog trying to catch its own tail.

I applaud my colleagues in Bristol for shining a light on the dark underbelly of social media, but it’s clear the owners of the platform have to do much, much more to eradicate the abuse.