I Got a Bomb Threat on Twitter. Was I Right to Report It?

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I Got a Bomb Threat on Twitter. Was I Right to Report It?

Postby admin » Fri May 09, 2014 10:43 pm

I Got a Bomb Threat on Twitter. Was I Right to Report It?
By Catherine Mayer @catherine_mayer

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Aug. 02, 2013

Updated August 4, 04:40 a.m. EST: In response to these threats, Twitter has amended its policies and the company says it will put extra staff in place to handle reports of abuse, which from next month may be logged across all platforms via an “in-tweet” report button, enabling Twitter users to report abusive behavior directly from a Tweet.

I have been told to expect a call today. The Major Crime Unit handling my case is handing it over to the Anti-Terror Branch of London’s Metropolitan Police Service, and the new team will brief me. A helpful cop based at the police station nearest my London apartment called twice yesterday afternoon with updates on the investigation. He told me a police squad car would drive by my apartment block for a second night, to make sure everything looked calm. The problem with a bomb threat, even one lacking in credibility, is that the authorities must take it seriously. Incredible threats occasionally prove true, and just making such a threat already constitutes a breach of more than one British law.

Dick Dastardly might have scripted the threat I received via Twitter on Wednesday evening:

7567t8h9juio @catherine_mayer A BOMB HAS BEEN PLACED OUTSIDE YOUR HOME. IT WILL GO OFF AT EXACTLY 10:47PM ON A TIMER AND TRIGGER DESTROYING EVERYTHING


(Another Twitter user riposted, “oh s**t not everything, that’s really bad.”) It was a cartoonish warning and in notifying the police, I set the weighty analogue wheels of justice in motion in pursuit of a puny digital miscreant. Welcome to the real-life Wacky Races.

So should I have reported the threat at all? My first instinct was to do exactly as Emma Barnett, Women’s Editor of the Daily Telegraph, recipient of an identically-worded tweet: she shut her computer and went to the pub. I reluctantly rang the police after Twitter users alerted me to tweets from two other female journalists, the Guardian‘s Hadley Freeman and the Independent‘s Grace Dent. Both had been threatened too and Freeman had already notified Scotland Yard. She tweeted me: “They said we should all make reports and it’s an arrestable offense.”

The officer who took my original call, the kindly pair of female cops who came to take my statement, and the police liaison at my local station all vigorously reinforced that message. The bomb threats – sent from different Twitter accounts to at least eight women, including me – followed rape threats levelled at campaigner Caroline Criado-Perez and Labour MP Stella Creasy after they joined forces in a successful push to keep a female figure, apart from the Queen, on British banknotes. Criado-Perez received a bomb threat too, although the imaginary device outside her home was described as a car bomb due to explode 17 minutes after the fictitious timer-and-trigger devices described in most of the warnings. To ignore such harassment, said my friendly local policeman, would “send out the wrong message.” He was the first to voice an assumption shared by victims and police, that the person who posted the threats is male. “There are men who sit in dark rooms doing these things,” he said.

A new frontline in the gender war has opened, and it is located in the strange landscapes of Twitter. The police find themselves conscripted into the battle, but most forces lack the knowledge and equipment to fight effectively. Although the Met has its own Twitter feeds—the main one is @metpoliceuk—not one of the officers I’ve encountered uses Twitter or understands why anyone would wish to do so. The first officer mistook the miscreant’s Twitter handle for a code; the more technologically savvy of the two female cops referred several times to his “IIP address.” (The hoaxer’s IP address, the unique number assigned to his computer or smart phone, will be known to Twitter unless he took the precaution of concealing it.) The officers were unanimous in advising me to take a break from Twitter, assuming, as many people do, that Twitter is at best a time-wasting narcotic, whose addled users tweet photographs of churches that resemble surprised chickens or post photographs of their breakfast.

Twitter is, of course, exactly that, but it is also an interactive communication medium that, for journalists, ranks with the telephone and email as an essential tool of the trade. Deployed cleverly, it is also an effective rallying mechanism, as Criado-Perez and Creasy demonstrated. Across the world, growing numbers of women turn to Twitter to connect with each other, compare experiences and sometimes to combine forces to try to bring about change. One of my favorite feeds is @EverydaySexism, which documents the incidences of harrassment, disparagement and patronising behavior that women encounter on a daily basis. Feminism and Twitter are natural partners.

But trolls are equally at home on Twitter. A medium that restricts arguments to bursts of 140 characters and promotes hashtaggable sentiments was always going to encourage virtual shouting matches. The apparent anonymity of Twitter tempts the angry and bored into thinking they can vent with impunity. Virtual sticks and stones can hurt, by intimidating or defaming their targets or inciting others to real violence, and sometimes the only recourse is to the law. For Criado-Perez and Creasy, targeted with an exceptional volume of exceptionally nasty tweets, the Twitter self-defense option of retweeting and shaming abusers under the hashtag #ShoutingBack simply wasn’t enough.

Yet inevitably the debate engendered by their experience and further fueled by the bomb threats has swung into dangerous territory. Twitter is rolling out a “report abuse” button, a good idea if it makes the company more responsive to genuine complaints (at time of writing, on Friday morning, Twitter has not replied to my report Wednesday evening of the bomb threat). However, Twitter has many times over proven itself as a vital vehicle for free speech in situations where free speech is under threat—Iranian protestors provided the template in 2009. Any apparatus geared to quashing abuse risks censoring flows of information.

And there’s the question of best use of police resources. They certainly weren’t well deployed pursuing Briton Paul Chambers, who in 2010 made an unfunny but obvious joke about blowing up Robin Hood airport in northern England after flights were canceled. Only after two years and three appeals—and a Twitter-based campaign, #TwitterJokeTrial—was his conviction quashed.

Chambers did not intend to frighten anyone. The motives of the person who tweeted me and the other women are harder to gauge, but presumably he wanted a reaction and in that respect he’ll have been richly satisfied. Which is a shame. In most cases #IgnoringTheIdiots is a better strategy than #ShoutingBack.

I alerted police because I believe, as @EverydaySexism illustrates, that the accretion of small iniquities adds up to a gross injustice. Even we privileged women in countries with laws to protect us live as second-class citizens. There were other factors that also influenced my decision-making, not least the apparent eagerness of the police to take action on Twitter abuse. I’ve also seen what can happen if you don’t report aggression. As a student, I failed to tell the authorities I had fought off an attacker in the women’s toilets on campus. He later raped two women.

So when the Anti-Terror Branch contacts me today, I shall continue to give assistance to the investigation. These officers are taking over because unlike their colleagues, they are digital natives, navigating with ease through the Twitter battlefields. But I shall also make clear to them, as I have done in my previous dealings with the police, that I never took the bomb threat seriously. The problem of abuse, the deepening hostilities between men and women: these I take seriously. These are ticking bombs and we need to figure out how to defuse them.

Catherine Mayer is TIME’s Europe Editor and author of Amortality: The Pleasures and Perils of Living Agelessly.
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Re: I Got a Bomb Threat on Twitter. Was I Right to Report It

Postby admin » Fri May 09, 2014 11:00 pm

How should you react when you receive a bomb threat on Twitter?
by Emma Barnett, Women's Editor
01 Aug 2013

Last night Emma Barnett received a bomb threat on Twitter, but instead of reporting it to the police, or even telling her family, she headed down the pub. But what is the appropriate way of dealing with such a situation?

98JU98U989@Emmabarnett A BOMB HAS BEEN PLACED OUTSIDE YOUR HOME. IT WILL GO OFF AT EXACTLY 10:47PM ON A TIMER AND TRIGGER DESTROYING EVERYTHING


Image
A screen grab of Emma Barnett's Twitter feed showing the bomb threat. Photo: EMMA BARNETT/TWITTER

At 6pm last night I received a bomb threat on Twitter. Like several other female British journalists, it was written in capital letters and posted by a user with an undecipherable account name: @98JU98U989.

It said (as you can see in the screen grab above): A BOMB HAS BEEN PLACED OUTSIDE YOUR HOME. IT WILL GO OFF AT EXACTLY 10:47PM ON A TIMER AND TRIGGER DESTROYING EVERYTHING.

I read it quickly at my desk, before rushing out of the office to meet an old contact down the pub. Yes that’s right, I got issued with a bomb threat – my very first one – and instead of reacting, tweeting about it, or even calling the police; I shut down my computer and dashed out to the boozer.

What should you do if you receive a bomb threat on Twitter?

Take a screen grab and report the user to the police
Block the user and report them to Twitter
Ignore it and carry on tweeting
Reply and shame them publicly
Vote
View Results


What’s wrong with me? That’s what I was left wondering this morning, as I turned on Radio 4’s Today Programme to hear Catherine Mayer of Time Magazine, discussing her reaction to receiving the same threat. She, along with The Independent’s Grace Dent and The Guardian’s Hadley Freeman, reported the matter to the police, who are now investigating the matter.

I would be lying if I didn’t admit that as I pelted it down the escalators at Victoria station that the tweet fleetingly crossed my mind again – as I realised it was the first time I had received a Twitter threat that contained a time and location for the abuse (in this case explosion) to happen in the real world.

However, that was it – my last thought about said bomb threat. Undeterred, I ploughed on through the rush hour people traffic, met my contact, enjoyed a few cool alcoholic beverages, returned home at 11.30pm and fell asleep – without thanking my lucky stars that it was after 10.47pm and I was safe.

But would I have reacted differently if:

a) I hadn’t had years of abuse on Twitter and in the comment box beneath my Telegraph articles?

b) Had children?

c) Had faith in the UK police force?

Brilliantly Mayer on the Today Programme revealed that when she did call the police, the copper on the blower didn’t know what Twitter was and thought, when she was giving him the details of the account (which posted the threat), that she was trying to give him some sort of code.

And it is this widespread ignorance of how to clamp down on digital threats from our law enforcers and crime fighters, which in part explains my reticence to react. I really don’t have much faith that our police force are geared up to deal with this type of threat – so I can’t be bothered to call them.

Despite this tweeter having committed a crime under the Malicious Communications Act – therefore making the police compelled to act – I understand that behind the scenes, the British police force are terrified that we will get to a situation in this country where they will need to investigate every tweet – which they just can’t physically do.

Even just this week, the Home Affairs Committee conceded that Britain is losing the war on cyber crime.

I also failed to react as I think I have developed a horribly thick digital skin. This is not to say I don’t ever get upset when someone tweets me something vile or illegal (which happens a lot after I finish presenting my LBC radio show each week), but on the whole I have learned to shrug these things off, block the offensive person - and wherever I can – shame these anonymous people.

On the contrary, the robust and often thoughtless exchanges on social media understandably makes some people become hypersensitive – as, let’s face it; nobody deals with that much verbal abuse in real life on an hourly basis. Lots of my male and female friends have either left Twitter or just read tweets – rather than contributing to the frenzy. But not me, yet.

So perhaps you can argue that I have become digitally corrupted. As in, what has the world come to when somebody receives a written threat to blow them up, and they just keep calm and carry on? But the reason I didn’t react publicly or interact with said tweeter, who has now had their account suspended – is I didn’t want to give them any attention, which is what people like this so badly crave.

And fundamentally, I believed it was a hoax – what with the crazy capped up message and the very odd user name.

However, this is not to say I don’t think the person shouldn’t have been reported to the police. I am grateful to my fellow writers for taking the matter in hand – as this person has committed a crime. There is a difference between not taking something seriously and not feeling actually threatened.

I didn’t feel threatened as I believed it was a spotty kid in his bedroom, making mischief (like one of Mary Beard’s trolls who was outed and shamed this week). But, I didn’t have anyway of knowing that for sure.

And one thing is for certain, if I had children, I definitely would have put myself through the pain of calling the police, even if I had to explain to them what Twitter was first – because my digital rationale wouldn’t provide the 100 per cent protection I would require to protect my notional offspring.

And apart from reporting the user on the particular platform you are using, and going to the police – there is currently nothing else you can do in this situation.

Threatening to bomb someone’s house and “destroy everything” is foul. It shouldn’t be happening. But it is. And with the web, it’s easier than ever to spread this bile and pain. Hate speech and abusive threats are deeply rooted societal ills – for which technology should not be blamed. But, as it ever was, not letting the bullies and abusers get into your head, is often the best and only viable response – even to a bomb threat on Twitter.
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Re: I Got a Bomb Threat on Twitter. Was I Right to Report It

Postby admin » Fri May 09, 2014 11:05 pm

Bomb threats sent to female journalists in wake of Twitter troll banknote row
By Amy Willis and agencies6:00AM BST 01 Aug 2013

Police are investigating messages sent to three female journalists on Twitter, threatening them with bombs placed outside their homes, ready to explode and "destroy everything".

98JU98U989@gracedent A BOMB HAS BEEN PLACED OUTSIDE YOUR HOME. IT WILL GO OFF AT EXACTLY 10:47PM ON A TIMER AND TRIGGER DESTROYING EVERYTHING


Image
Screengrab from the Twitter feed of Independent columnist Grace Dent

The three journalists – Hadley Freeman, a Guardian columnist, Grace Dent, a columnist at The Independent, and Catharine Mayer, Europe editor of Time magazine – received the Twitter threats on Wednesday from anonymous user @98JU98U989.

The Twitter account had been suspended by Twitter last night, however a screen grab was posted on Twitter by one of the journalists.

The threat read: "A BOMB HAS BEEN PLACED OUTSIDE YOUR HOME. IT WILL GO OFF AT EXACTLY 10.47PM ON A TIMER AND TRIGGER DESTROYING EVERYTHING".

The incident was immediately reported to the Metropolitan Police. A police spokesman said: "We can confirm that the MPS has received allegations relating to bomb threats sent to a number of females on Twitter."

The spokesman said enquiries are continuing and so far there have been no arrests.

After receiving the threat, Hadley Freeman wrote on Twitter she was calling the police, adding: "If it's illegal to threaten to bomb an airport, it's illegal to threaten to bomb me."

Grace Dent described the threat as a "new low" following rape threats to Walthamstow MP Stella Creasy and women's campaigner Caroline Criado-Perez after it was agreed that Jane Austen would appear on British banknotes.

Television historian Professor Mary Beard was also targeted by a Twitter troll, who she named and shamed, calling her a "filthy old s---". He apologised after another Twitter user threatened to send a copy of his comments to his mother.

Meanwhile, over 100,000 people have signed a petition calling on Twitter to beef up its procedures for dealing with abuse.

Twitter has announced plans to include a button for reporting abuse within every tweet – something which is already available on its iPhone app.

But critics argue this does not go far enough and only directs users to the existing reporting form which, they claim, is too long and impractical.

A change.org petition calling for the social networking site to take a stronger stance has drawn more than 100,000 signatures.

The petition states: "Abuse on Twitter is common, sadly too common. And it frequently goes ignored. We need Twitter to recognise that its current reporting system is below required standards."

Ms Criado-Perez, 29, said Twitter needed to "get a grip" on security after she received a barrage of abusive messages, as it emerged bosses were likely to face a grilling from MPs.

She said the social network was ill-equipped to handle episodes of sustained abuse and needed to work more closely with police to deal with internet trolls.

Del Harvey, Twitter's director for trust and safety, admitted it was not the company's policy to automatically report threatening or abusive messages to police.

The website does not hold information to reveal the location a message has been sent from and therefore cannot identify the correct local police force, Ms Harvey said.

She also revealed she had received messages threatening to rape her on "multiple platforms across multiple sites on the internet" but chose not to prosecute.

Ms Harvey told BBC Radio Five Live: "We don't have that much information about our users compared with other platforms.

"We don't always have that information about where the message came from.

"If somebody called you and said, 'I'm going to come over and beat you up', you don't expect the phone company to contact the police. You certainly expect them to work with police."

Asked whether she would be happy with Twitter's response if she received abusive messages, Ms Harvey replied: "I actually have received tweets like that and I can tell you that if I had felt that it was something that I wanted to prosecute then I would have gone to law enforcement directly about it.

"It's awful and I certainly wouldn't wish receiving that kind of content on anyone and that's part of the reason I want to get this right and I want us to work on improving how we handle these things."

Ms Criado Perez met Twitter directors on Monday night along with Ms Creasy, who received a similar torrent of abusive messages after she offered support to the freelance journalist.

"This will have been a wake-up call for Twitter," Ms Criado Perez said.

"It will hopefully have led them to realise that they are not equipped to deal with this kind of thing properly.

"They need to get a grip and figure it out."

Twitter bosses look set to face questions from MPs when the Culture, Media and Sport Committee examines issues surrounding child protection in the autumn.

Committee chairman John Whittingdale said: "I would have thought it very possible that the committee might want, in the course of our inquiry, to talk to Twitter."

He added: "It isn't that the law needs to be changed; the question is how you identify people and how you prevent them (from abusing others online)."

Ms Criado Perez, from north London, found herself at the centre of a public furore after she launched a campaign to have a woman's picture printed on a new banknote.

This led to the announcement that Jane Austen would feature on the new £10 note from 2017 but also drew her a litany of depraved messages from social networkers.

Ms Creasy was sent similarly vicious tweets when she spoke out in support of the campaigner.

Officers have also questioned and bailed a 21-year-old man in connection with the messages sent to Ms Criado Perez.

Twitter said it was in contact with the police over the abusive tirades.
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