Twitter, Tr0lls and Hobbes.

Twitter has been in the news recently. The news reports speak of Tr0lls, people who deliberately use the service to shout abuse, issue threats, and insult other users. This morning, Michelle Mone, has been on TV talking to both ITV and BBC about her experience on Twitter. Click here for a report.

Within youth work this concern has been tackled by Young Scot. This is important as young people are seen as early adopters of new technology through their digitally native upbringing, conversely young people are regarded as a vulnerable group within society, and as such need to be treated as digitally naive.


Hobbes, like Machiavelli, had a low view of human beings. We are all basically selfish, driven by fear of death and the hope of personal gain, he believed. All of us seek power over others, whether we realize this or not.
Warburton, A Little History of Philosophy.

Hobbes main idea is that the only thing that keeps our selfish side from coming out is the rule of law the threat of punishment, you could call it society. Hobbes life without these rules or threat of punishment, life outside society would be ‘solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short. In order to keep society together you need a strong leader, or a strong government. you also need people to buy into a social contract of not being selfish. giving up the dangerous side of being or the safety of society.

When you look at Twitter and it use by tr0lls it does look much like Hobbes analysed. It lacks any policing and any threat of punishment. Is that a bad thing?
because people are digitally naive. I consider that people are generally good, and a few bad apples spoilt it all for us. I say this from an awareness I am white, I am male, I live in the country, with a comparatively affluent lifestyle. I don’t see the shit of life. I don’t life in the nasty underbelly of life. I don’t see my neighbourhood being oppressed. I don’t have gangs on every corner of my streets. My neighbours do not go hungry on a regular basis. Life is good, comfortable. The practice of tr0lling brings a piece of nastiness, a glimpse of the underside of life into my path. It makes me more conscious that oppression is real. People have nasty experiences everyday and I may unthinkingly contribute to that. Without speaking about sexism, racism, the outrage of need for food banks within Scotland, people living in substandard housing. then I would by my silence be complicit with this oppression. I would be giving Tacit approval to this state of affairs.

I have once been in the situation where I caused great concern to someone by a comment I made on twitter. It was meant as a sarcastic remark but caused remarkable pain to someone else. I apologised immediately. I asked to apologise in person but was not told who it was I offended. I apologised publically using twitter, and since then have never made a comment like that again, (hopefully). It bothers me I made that comment and secondly I didn’t get to apologise in person. What moderated my usage was someone telling me I had crossed a line.

So the lack of policing is a good thing?

I can only imagine how horrible it is to have people attack you for being who you are. I can only imagine how horribly it is to have people deliberately threaten you verbally, threaten you physically, and threaten your family and friends. Just because you can delete your account or block abusive people does not mean that you are safe or that people should be allowed to say whatever they like on the internet.

What does twitter needs is a society to actively moderate itself. A community to engage with it and speak up when things arent right. A community willing to engage and say, that over the line, to speak and say that’s not right.