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