Dealing with the downside of an online revolution

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Growing eforts to tackle the menace of abuse on social networking sites has the support of controversial Falkirk MP Eric Joyce.

As 21st century communications tools like Facebook and Twitter have been embraced by the nation there is mounting concern over the disadvantages which counter the advantages, with the rise in unacceptable comments being posted online now a major issue.

They can range from the unspeakable to the disgusting and have been aimed at everyone from celebrities and sports stars to television personalities. Politicians were never going to avoid being part of the bad side of the internet loop.

Mr Joyce who fell so dramatically from grace after being arrested for starting a brawl in a House of Commons bar last year is a regular target for offensive tweets. The disgraced former member of the Labour Party and ex-Army major has been sent crude messages and images from individuals he has never had any contact with.

But while he is hardened to the abuse from the ‘trolls’ who access his twitter account to tweet comments of anything but a complimentary nature, there are issues around how easily they can become part of the lives of others, particularly young people who have innocently signed up for the Facebook or Twitter experience.

Mr Joyce thinks it is time website bullies were brought to book.

He said: “What I have received are perfect examples of why on-line and media communities have to act for themselves to maintain decent standards of human behaviour.

“They are examples of systematic, abusive and threatening messages to individuals using Twitter.

“Until now I have limited my action to asking politely for the senders to desist. However, some of the most recent messages which refer to women represent a wholly unacceptable, sometimes sexual and violent, misogyny and I feel strongly that it is time to take appropriate action.

“Too often today a significant minority of male Internet users think it is acceptable to verbally abuse women on the internet but it is not.”

The fact schoolchildren are such prolific users has resulted in their teachers also becoming reluctant targets of electronically-generated hate mail.

Following offensive comments last year to an employee, Falkirk Council quickly took steps to have them removed and reassured its teachers.

A spokesperson said “As a responsible employer we have a duty of care towards our employees and will offer support where appropriate. The rise in the use of social media is presenting new challenges for all employers and we are keeping a close watch on legal precedents and employment practices across the UK which will help us form future workforce policies.”

Larry Flannagan, General Secretary of teachers union the EIS, said: “Online abuse of teachers by both pupils and others, sometimes including parents, is a matter of significant concern throughout the teaching profession.

“The increasing use of technology and social media as educational tools has blurred the distinction between teachers as professionals and their privacy as individuals.

“All teachers should take great care when using social media either in a professional or personal capacity and take steps to ensure appropriate safeguards are in place to ensure their privacy.

“All local authorities should have policies in place which outline acceptable use of the internet including social media, within the school environment.

“Where any individual –pupil, parent or anyone else – steps over the boundary and abuses a teacher online this must be dealt with swiftly and include police involvement if necessary.”