The social media platform Twitter has been making the headlines every day lately and not for good reasons. The popular 140-character driven network is under fire for its increasingly troll-heavy content and its failure to regulate abusive tweeters. From celebrities shutting down accounts to politicians and special interest groups daily (and very publically) engaged in tweet-to-tweet combat, Twitter is a hotbed for conflict – so much so, it affected several potential business acquisitions.
A troll is just what it sounds like — a person (or group of people) who intentionally sows discord and conflict online.
If your kids are on Twitter, they know very well that one perfectly timed hashtag or celebrity tweet can spark a wildfire of online hate if the trolls grab it and run. While your kids likely aren’t part of the hate, no doubt, they can feel the hate and even be influenced by it. A 2015 report claimed 88% of the digital abuse happens on Twitter. The reason for this? Unlike Facebook and Instagram, Twitter still allows anonymous account names and profile information — which is the #1 magnet for haters, hate groups, and cyber bullies.
The issues are real, and the people behind them are real. Here are just a few headlines putting Twitter’s hotbed of hate in the spotlight.
Anti-Semitic Trolls Threaten to Take Twitter Down with Them
Conservative Writer Tells How White Supremacists Have Tormented His Family
Actress Leslie Jones Targeted by Racists on Twitter
In August, Twitter released an updated guide on how to deal with trolls and “control” your experience on the platform, that includes curating notification options. However, some argue the improvements do little to solve the harassment issues. So the best defense is a good offense and educating your kids on how to navigate past the hate.
8 Tips for Rising Above the Twitter Trolls:
- Never respond. A hater’s full-time job is to draw you into a never-ending, circular conversation of hate that puts you through an emotional shredder. There’s no winning an argument with a person blinded by hate.
- Don’t stoop. As tempting as the hashtag may be, don’t join in the hashtag fun if hate or bullying is behind it. Often, people exist behind those hateful hashtags that masquerade as funny. To slam a TV show, a reality star, a football coach, or a politician is still cyber bullying.
- Consider the source. If you understand the hater mentality, you can move on relatively quickly without taking too much offense or investing too much emotion. Haters are gonna hate. That’s why they have anonymous accounts; that’s why their entire Twitter feed is negative, threatening, offensive, even violent. So block them and move on.
- Teach tolerance. The U.S. is a rich blend of cultures from all over the world, so raising digital kids who understand that is preparing them to rise above the haters. Encouraging an attitude of openness and respect for the differences that exist among people will help kids understand, appreciate, and connect successfully with others online.
- Understand Twitter yourself. If you are setting out to coach your kids, make sure you know the Twittersphere yourself. For many teens, Twitter has become a group texting channel. Get to know the lingo. Words like Hashtags, blocks, ReTweets, @ symbols, DMs are simple terms you may want to know. Here’s a quick Twitter lingo guide.
- You are what you tweet. Remind your kids they are not alone on Twitter but on a stage where an audience of people can see their tweets. They can’t take a tweet back even if they delete it and be assured it’s gone. Teach them to be mindful of photos they post, and links they recommend. This is an excellent opportunity to talk about values, gossip, cyber bullying, critical thinking, drama, and smart communication. Repeat to them often: “Think before you tweet.” Put consequences in place before your kids abuse their Twitter privilege. Talk to them about Twitter cases in the news and the many ways their words can come back to haunt them.
- Manage conflict. Twitter’s fast pace can be a landmine where little tweets can ignite into big offenses. Teach your kids to respond well and steer conversations upward. Teach them how first to ignore, then to block. Also, teach them to define gossip and not to re-tweet false information.
- Ignore. Block. Report. Every Twitter conflict or cyber bullying will look different and have a different set of circumstances. Ignoring the person and not engaging is often the best option to extinguish a conflict. Step two is to block the abusive user and report the account to Twitter Help. Along with reporting, make sure you have screenshots of the conversation as well as a screen shot of the abusive account and profile information. Or, follow the genius example of this woman who shut down her haters by quoting encouraging dialogue from the movie Good Will Hunting.
Toni Birdsong is a Family Safety Evangelist to McAfee. You can find her on Twitter @McAfee_Family and @ToniBirdsong. (Disclosures).
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