Although social media can be a great platform for spreading good news and promoting businesses, there's a growing underbelly of nastiness and abuse. That's why social media platforms have been tightening their rules around what constitutes abuse and removing users accounts that are used for spreading misinformation and abuse.
Last week, I had a tweet reported - Twitter deemed that the tweet didn't contravene its policies - and that had me thinking. What makes a social media posts "offensive" and how do you report abusive, false or potentially libellous post?
In my case, I was responding to a tweet by former Kotaku editor Mark Serrels.
My wife went to the cinema to see Avengers: Endgame and someone in the audience jumped up. Screamed out the ending and then just... walked out of the cinema.
— Mark Serrels (@Serrels) April 30, 2019
I responded, jokingly, "This is why we need capital punishment".
I was totally bemused when I received this in my email the next day.
Based on my reading of Twitter's rules, it's hard to see how my tweet could have resulted in some sort of ban or sanction. I guess my tweet could have been interpreted as inciting violence but that seems a bit of stretch.
Some of my friends have had content deleted from social media platforms or received warnings. In one case, a friend had his cover image on a social media platform reported after it had been up for over two years.
Recently, Microsoft updated its Community Standards for Xbox and provided examples of phrases and statements that would be considered outside their view of acceptable behaviour. Those include:
- Get [sexual threat]. Can’t believe you thought you were on my level.
- Hey [profanity], that was some serious potato aim. Get wrecked, trash.
- Only reason you went positive was you spent all game camping. KYS, kid.
- Cheap win. Totally expected from a [racial slur].
- You suck. Get out of my country—maybe they’ll let you back in when your k/d’s over 1.
There are several cases where a tweet has resulted in legal action. And the question of whether such a claim could make it to the courts depends greatly on which jurisdiction the case is raised in. Melbourne businessman and philanthropist Joseph Gutnick claims he was defamed in an article that was published but The Wall Street Journal but accessible to 1700 Australian subscribers.
Gutnick successfully petitioned to have the case heard in Victoria and won the case. But if there case had been heard in the United States then the outcome may have been different.
What can we learn from all this?
The range of penalties are very broad ranging from having a post deleted through to being sued in a foreign country.
The lesson for all of us is to think before you post. In my case, someone decided that my off-hand and tongue-in-cheek comment was worthy of being reported. But any comment or post that directly addresses another person and includes potentially abusive content could land you in hot water.