Tornado in the Twitterhood
Friday 27th February 2009 will not be remembered by me with a great deal of pleasure for two reasons. It was the day that I found myself caught up in a storm of abuse from fans of two British football clubs who called me a Nazi and a liar in public on Twitter.
That day was also the occasion on which we celebrated the life of Tom Brubaker, a dear friend who passed away a few days earlier and who will be remembered fondly by many, not least for his wonderful Yiddisher humour.
The storm on Twitter started the night before, when a lady tweeted an urgent prayer request for 22 missionaries whose execution by Taliban was imminent. Naturally, I retweeted this message, as I do all such requests by calling upon prayer warriors of all denominations to include these missionaries and their captors in their prayers.
It would appear that a British football fanatic who was following me saw my retweet, looked for information on his usual news sources and, finding none, accused the lady of deliberately lying and racism.
When I returned to Twitter on Friday morning, it was to discover that this person had not only heaped abuse upon the lady directly but had then started working his way down the list of people who followed her, maligning her in tweets to them. Naturally, the lady was distraught at this and I sent four Direct Messages (private tweets) to the abuser, asking him to desist and apologise.
There was no response but the abuser then turned his attentions on me and I found myself similarly under attack. My suggestion that he read the DMs sent earlier was met with refusal on the grounds that it is "snide to hide" obliging me to address the issue in public, which I did.
To the abuser's insistence that the lady had invented the whole story, I responded that he might wish to put '22 missionaries Taliban' into a search engine and see a blog article dated 25/2/2009 which, whether correct or not, would have given most people the impression that the story was true. Parallels were drawn, within the blog post with an earlier incident, involving a similar number of missionaries.
My point was that the lady had acted in good faith on the basis of what might well turn out to be a rumour but there was no way she could have known that. Failure to report such an event in the news might have been the result of a decision to avoid allowing the press to be used as publicity tool thus rewarding such actions.
There ensued the most horrible series of abusive postings, both on Twitter and twitpic, the abuser deliberately ignoring the article to which I had referred, insisting that there had been no recent mention of any such action and calling a series of people, including me, liars and Nazis along with a great deal of profanity. Looking at his profile I noted that the website he had included a link to was that of the official Arsenal Football Club.
My efforts to reason with this, presumably mentally unwell, person were to no avail and I was obliged to block his account, a thing I never do lightly since it is a serious statement about someone and it is usually enough simply to 'unfollow' someone who has become unpleasant so that one no longer sees what he, or she, has to say.
Unfortunately, due to an oversight in Twitter, in spite of having blocked someone, it is still impossible to avoid reading anything they tweet that starts with one's user name! Various people, including me, urgently requested that this person's account be suspended and it was done fairly swiftly, though not before he had had time to abuse a few more good people.
Having been ashore to meet Tom's brother Herb, who had flown in from Washington DC, his daughter and various other friends of Tom Brubaker to give his life a send-off that he would consider fitting - sharing wonderful memories of time spent with him and affirming his place in all our hearts - I returned to Twitter in the evening and prepared to host the daily Twitterhood Quiz at 22:00 UST.
It was mentioned that the abuser's account had been suspended as a result of pressure from so many complainants and that, I thought, was the end of that. How wrong I was about that became evident halfway through the first question when tweets from a female follower accused me of being a liar and a Nazi and having victimised the abuser by getting his account suspended.
Being somewhat busy at the time, I decided to retweet these abusive messages and then ignore them while I got on with gathering up responses to the quiz. It seemed to me that this would both let others know that I was having to pick the answers out from amongst a new source of abuse and, perhaps, indicate to her that her statements were not being taken personally nor given any credence by me.
Before long another source of abuse joined in and, from the style they contained it was immediately obvious that this was the morning's abuser using another account. This time, the link included in the profile was to West Ham United Football Club's official site. That account is still functioning as I write but, for whatever reason, the abuser has fallen silent, at least for the time being.
To cut a long story short, I was on the verge of abandoning Twitter, in favour of returning to my pleasant and peaceful solitude, after one or two people had tweeted me quite rudely about the situation, when a great many others offered their support and words of great kindness, causing me to remember that it would be a shame to throw the baby out with the bathwater, so to speak.
A mechanism needs to be added to Twitter which prevents tweets of any kind from people whose accounts have been blocked by a user appearing in their tweet stream. It must be possible to write a string of code which links the act of blocking an account to a refusal to allow even @replies from that account to appear.
Failure to do something about this will be to allow blocked abusers to carry on unabated and people like me will not stay around long to put up with that sort of thing. Most of the women in my group understood instantly why I felt it necessary to stand up to the bullies and defend others in the group from their attentions.
Quite a few men, on the other hand seemed to be in favour of putting up with it, which I found fascinating. No wonder so many women are losing respect for men when so many of them have become lily-livered and cowardly when faced with unpleasant situations. Nobody is suggesting they become aggressive but standing up for oneself politely is not aggression, it is having healthy self-esteem.
Standing up for others perhaps less accustomed to dealing with difficult people is not 'trying to be the police' but looking out for others in one's social circle as one might hope they would do if the situation were reversed. When people follow me they honour me with their presence and they deserve better than to be left to cope unsupported when attacked simply for having chosen to associate with me.
What I do find surprising is that those football clubs allow themselves to be associated with people who can do their images nothing but harm. This is the first time I have realised that there is a very good reason for monitoring just who is suggesting that there is a relationship between themselves and oneself and taking steps to prevent any misunderstandings by, at the very least, publishing a statement to that effect somewhere with high visibility.