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Operation ‘Zero-Trollerance’ welcomes you to the future, where automated twitter bots target misogynistic trolls and tweet them self-help videos. Brilliant.
Twitter is notoriously bad for combating ‘trolling’ (helpfully defined on urbandictionary.com as ‘Being a prick on the internet because you can’), with Twitter CEO Dick Costolo admitting ‘we suck at dealing with trolls and abuse’. While there is a wide range of awful and staggering abuse tweeted by people all over the world hiding behind the cover of their computer screen, there seems to be a worryingly large amount targeted at women.
A recent study by Demos called ‘Misogyny on Twitter’ found that the words ‘slut’ and ‘whore’ were tweeted six million times in just over a month, and alarmingly of over 100,000 Tweets mentioning ‘rape’ between 26th December 2013 and 9th February 2014, more than 1 in 10 appeared to be threatening in nature. On top of this, they were disproportionately aimed at women, and in particular women of colour. Often, people were attacked purely because of their gender.
Whilst Twitter seems unable to create a method of rooting out and stopping trolling, the Peng! Collective has launched a counter attack. Set up by a group of German activists, the new ‘Zero-Trollerance’ programme uses automated Twitter bots to detect misogynistic trolls and give them a taste of their own medicine – in a good way.
The programme finds and makes a note of offenders posting tweets containing anything from the Peng! Collective’s carefully constructed list of incriminating words or phrases. This includes, but is not limited to, ‘feminist bitch’, ‘fat slut’, ‘die stupid bitch’, ‘die tranny’, ‘attention seeking whore’ etc etce. Next, it passes their account names on to automated bots that start tweeting back at the trolls, sidestepping twitters anti-spam policy by using hundreds of different accounts whose offensive will go in waves, with each set of bots launching its attacks before fading away to be replaced by fresh bots.
Then, the master stroke. Over the course of six days the trolls are continually sent links to self-help videos to attempt to help them understand the consequences of the hatred they are spreading online. The (slightly tongue in cheek) videos – titled Zero Denial, Zero Internet, Zero Anger, Zero Fear, Zero Hate, and finally Zero Troll – star a motivational speaker trying to help the twitter trolls exorcise their inner-demons and become all round better human beings through the mediums of interviews with ‘reformed trolls’ and tips for dealing with the types of frustrations and anger the collective has assigned to online misogynists.
Of course there is the obvious worry that by just searching for key words in tweets the programme might throw up people who aren’t using it in a misogynistic manner, for example, if tweets are responding to trolls and quoting their abuse. This programme is far from perfect, but its a start, and the collective is also interested in rolling the programme out to include racist and homophobic language too.
The Collective claims that “for trolls, this is the first step towards a new life”, and while its jokey nature shows it is far from a serious self-help scheme, it does highlight that it is better to fight back against misogyny than to try to ignore it, and that’s a good place to start.