It seemed like such a good idea: give folks an opportunity to issue random, fun or newsworthy comments to a mass audience, and keep it simple by limiting characters to 140. Let participants be creative and use their names, nicknames or descriptive words as handles.
It’s the premise of Twitter, a social media channel that has exploded into a global entity. Today, we get our breaking news, traffic updates, friend locations and more, all via this simple and immediate information feed. But there is a soft underbelly of Twitter that isn’t often discussed: what happens when you have a Twitter user name that someone else wants?
In my case, I use my real name for Twitter — which also happens to be the same name as a popular character on the television series, Glee. I can’t tell you how many people want me to turn over my Twitter handle…and they have gotten pretty strident when i have refused. But that pales in comparison to what a friend has gone through recently. Her Twitter handle happens to be the same name as a popular rapper (now deceased), and she received actual death threats when she refused to relinquish it.
When it comes to protecting the security of its users, the people behind the Twitter curtain are pretty lax. While Twitter has a harassment policy, it isn’t enforced…something journalist Lindy West recently exposed in The Daily Dot. Her story is appalling — and sobering. While Twitter has plenty of users sharing great information, there are also the fringe nut cases who want to give you nightmares…and Twitter won’t help you stop them.
In May 2015, Twitter acknowledged in a story on Fast Company that it had a problem. Twitter’s CEO, Dick Costolo, said “We suck at dealing with abuse and trolls on the platform and we’ve sucked at it for years. We’re going to start kicking these people off right and left and making sure that when they issue their ridiculous attacks, nobody hears them.”
But to date, it does not seem that progress has been made. So if you are experiencing threats or harassment on Twitter, here are the steps you need to take:
- Complete the abusive user form on Twitter. Twitter probably won’t be helpful, but you need to give the site a chance to make things right.
- Check your password. Make sure it’s rock-solid, using an unusual combination of characters, numbers and signs.
- Block the abuser. At least you won’t have to read anything further from him or her.
- If the threat is severe, file a report with your local police department. Again, this probably won’t solve the problem, but at least you have documentation showing that a crime is being committed.
- Finally, you can report the problem to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center.
Cyber-bullying is a crime. Hopefully, the laws will catch up with technology and force companies such as Twitter to provide better protection to its users.