Two plead guilty over Twitter rape threats

Trial

Tuesday 7th January saw John Nimmo and Isabella Sorley plead guilty to sending messages “menacing” in nature to Feminist campaigner Caroline Criado-Perez and Walthamstow MP Stella Creasy via multiple Twitter accounts.

In July 2013, Criado-Perez had been successful in campaigning for author Jane Austen to appear on the £10 bank note. Shortly after in final days of July and spilling into August, a torrent of abuse was directed at Criado-Perez including numerous threats to sexually abuse, rape, torture, and kill the campaigner. After lending Criado-Perez support on the social networking site, Creasy was also targeted by abusive users.

The prosecution identified abusive traffic from 86 different Twitter accounts, several of which belonged to the defendants.

The court heard from prosecutor Alison Morgan that Criado-Perez felt “significant fear” due to the menacing nature of the tweets which have had “life changing psychological effects”, Creasy reported that both her personal and professional life were impacted upon by the messages.

Sorley held her face in her hands as the prosecutor read aloud some of her offending tweets, which included;

“You’re wasting shits loads of time because you can’t handle rape threats, pathetic! Rape is the last of your worries!!!!”

“rape?! I’d do a lot worse things than rape you!!”

“I will find you and you don’t want to know what I will do when I do, you’re pathetic, kill yourself beforeI i do #godie”

When arrested in October of 2013, Sorley admitted to sending the abusive tweets, saying that she was “bored” and that “I was off my face on drink” at the time, although she accepted that some tweets could be perceived as death threats.

Nimmo, on the other hand was arrested in July of 2013 after having been tracked down by a Newsnight reporter and gave no comment when arrested. His defence claimed that he is a “social recluse” whose “social interaction, social life, is online” as a result of being “systematically bullied at secondary school, both physical and verbal”. As a result of social exclusion, his defence claims, Nimmo has “no social life, no friends, he strives for popularity” and that his “outrageous comments [were] made for retweets”.

Both Sorley and Nimmo plead guilty under Section 127 of the Communications Act (2003) and are to appear before the Westminster Magistrates court later this month.

CASS investigates

I travelled to the court to witness the trial as part of work being undertaken as part of a research project on Discourse of Online Misogyny (DOOM) here at CASS. Our initial aim is to investigate the ways in which language was used as part of the threats made against Caroline Criado-Perez and Stella Creasy on Twitter. Building on this, we will produce sophisticated analytical tools to provide critical analyses of language and other kinds of behaviours which emerge during instances of online abuse (such as network building).

CASS outputs

Newsnight

Claire Hardaker, Lecturer in English Language and Principal Investigator of the DOOM project, appeared on the 07/01/2014 edition of Newsnight.

CASS: Briefing

CASSbriefings-trolling

You can also read a summary of this work in a complimentary CASS: Briefing.

View and download it here: Researching online abuse: the case of trolling     

Rude Britannia – what our politeness says about our nation

Britain is still a nation of polite people and fears that texts, tweets and Facebook are making people ruder is a myth, according to research from Lancaster University’s Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences (FASS). The British are famous for their reserve, indirect way of saying things and a love of queuing. However, new research shows that what we find polite, and what we find rude is unique to our culture and can be very different to notions of rudeness in other cultures.

The research carried out by Professor Jonathan Culpeper, an expert in linguistic politeness, will be presented at an event as part of the Economic and Social Research Council’s annual Festival of Social Science, which runs between 2-9 November 2013.

Read more…

CASS awarded £200,000 from landmark ESRC Urgency Grant Scheme

CASS is delighted to announce a successful ESRC application for funding on a project entitled “Twitter rape threats and the discourse of online misogyny” (ES/L008874/1). The award of £191,245.25 was one of the first (possibly even the first) to be made as part of the ESRC’s new Urgency Grants scheme. Under this scheme, applications are assessed very quickly, and projects also start within four weeks of a successful award. This particular project will begin in November and run for fourteen months. It will be part of the CASS Centre, and the team will be comprised of Claire Hardaker (PI), Tony McEnery (CI), Paul Baker (CI), Andrew Hardie (CI), Paul Iganski (CI), and two CASS-hosted research assistants.

This project will investigate the rape and death threats sent on Twitter in July and August 2013 to a number of high profile individuals, including MP Stella Creasy and journalist Caroline Criado-Perez. This project seeks to address the remarkable lack of research into such behaviour, especially in light of the fact that policymakers and legislators are under intense pressure to make quick, long-term decisions on relevant policy and procedure to allow enforcement agencies to act on this issue. Specifically, the project will investigate what the language used by those who send rape/death threats on Twitter reveals about…

  1. their concerns, interests, and ideologies; what concept do they seem to have of themselves and their role in society?
  2. their motivations and goals; what seems to trigger them? What do they seem to be seeking?
  3. the links between them and other individuals, topics, and behaviours; do they only produce misogynistic threats or do they engage in other hate-speech? Do they act alone or within networks?

The project will take a corpus approach, incorporating several innovative aspects, and it will produce results that should be relevant to several social sciences including sociology, criminology, politics, psychology, and law. It will also offer timely insight into an area where policy, practice, legislation, and enforcement is currently under intense scrutiny and requires such research to help shape future developments. As such, the results will likely be of interest to legislators, policymakers, investigative bodies, and law enforcement agencies, as well as the study participants, media, and general public.

Writing for the press: the deleted scenes

In late July and early August 2013, the stories of Caroline Criado-Perez, the bomb threats, and latterly, the horrific tragedy of Hannah Smith broke across the media, and as a result, the behaviour supposedly known as “trolling” was pitched squarely into the limelight. There was the inevitable flurry of dissections, analyses, and opinion pieces, and no doubt like any number of academics in similar lines of work, I was asked to write various articles on this behaviour. Some I turned down for different reasons, but one that I accepted was for the Observer. (Here’s the final version that came out in both the Observer and the Guardian.)

Like the majority of people, I have been mostly in the dark about how the media works behind the scenes. That said, throughout my time at university, I have studied areas like Critical Discourse Analysis and the language of the media, and over the past three years, my work has been picked up a few times in small ways by the media, so I probably had a better idea than many. I realise now, however, that even with this prior knowledge, I was still pretty naive about the process. I wasn’t too surprised, then, when I got a number of comments on the Observer article raising exactly the sorts of questions I too would have asked before I’d gone through what I can only describe as a steep media learning curve. There were, essentially, three main issues that kept recurring:

(1)    Why didn’t you talk about [insert related issue here]? This other thing is also important!

(2)  Why didn’t you define trolling properly? This isn’t what I’d call trolling!

(3)   Why did you only mention the negative types of trolling? There are good kinds too!

All three questions are interrelated in various ways, but I’ve artificially separated them out because each gives me a chance to explain something that I’ve learned about what happens behind the scenes during the process of producing media content.

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