Protests have taken place over the course of history in various ways, whether it be in the form of the bus boycotts of the Civil Rights era, or in the recent protests seen outside the site of an area where the controversial method of Fracking was being used to harness energy. On the 4th August 2013, also regarded as International Friendship Day, several twitter uses chose to use the social networking platform to protest against abuse which had been directed at certain women on the website, by remaining silent for a day.

So what sparked the protest? Originally it came as a result of one feminist user, Caroline Criado-Perez, campaigning to have a woman’s face remain on the British banknotes which saw Jane Austen be chosen on the new £10 notes in the UK. This led to a slur of abuse from twitter users who threatened to attack and rape her. Criado-Perez was received hundreds of messages an hour, many of which were incredibly abusive and appeared to threaten her personal safety which saw her report them to the police.

This debacle has since led Twitter to review it’s methods of reporting abuse after a “Zero Tolerance Policy” petition was set up which received thousands of signatures. The incident even saw the UK manager for Twitter, @TonyW, apologising to several women on the site – a tactic which then saw men arguing that shouldn’t they too receive apologies for abuse they have encountered whilst using the social networking site?

The silence itself came partly as a result of tweets by the user @CaitlinMoran who championed the hashtagged campaign “#twittersilence” She remained silent on Twitter on the 4th, though interestingly Caroline Criado-Perez did not, saying she chooses rather to “#shoutback” as opposed to voicing her disdain in silence. Historian Mary Beard has also joined in the twitter silence. She became victim to attacks by users, even receiving bomb threats after she outed a so-called twitter “troll” who had posted an offensive post, something which saw two arrests being made by the police.

One of the interesting issues at the heart of the debate, which casts it in a political light, is just how much power do the Police, and the Government have to decide how much freedom of speech we have. Unlike in America, the UK does not have the right to complete freedom of speech in the same respects, with some EU legislation in fact infringing on our right to say whatever we like. In addition to this, while it is all well and good to claim freedom of speech, is it ever acceptable to threaten to rape somebody or to bomb their house? No – something which creates a messy divide over what is, and what isn’t, acceptable behaviour on social networking sites. This entire debate stemmed because of the decision to review the designs that are on the banknotes in the UK, and tie in well with the Governments plans to prohibit the nation’s access to online pornography, and to the plans to censor the magazine covers of typical “lads mags” such as “Nuts” and “Zoo” within shops. Only a few weeks ago the story of the USA’s NSA scheme which saw the US government using surveillance technology to monitor what their citizens were doing, proving how our civil liberties are increasingly coming under debate and fire.

All of this raises a great deal of questions about the impact and influence of social media in our lives and just how much we feel the government should be able to interfere with what is said on these platforms. While I, personally, am not in favour of an infringement on a person’s opportunity to express their own opinion, I do not condone the threat and abuse that is sent on Twitter and other social networking sites on a daily basis, and somebody has to do something about it. At least Caitlin Moran and those taking part in the #TwitterSilence are making a stand.


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