I've been on the Internet since around 1st grade and in that time I've been a part of a lot of communities. What I've noticed is that building a successful community often means allowing elements into it that you don't like or approve of. The extent of that depends on how open a community you want but as a general rule the more you want people to freely express themselves the more you have to allow unsavory elements in.
Keep that in mind when reading this excerpt from a post by Ariel Waldman
In June 2007, I unfortunately found myself on the receiving end of multiple accounts of harassment from a user on Twitter. When the user started using my full name in their harassing tweets, I reported the harassment as a form of cyberbullying to Twitter’s community manager and received a response that let me know they cared about the situation
The harassment continued throughout the course of 2007. Since Twitter and I had an open dialog started, I would periodically report cases of continuing harassment (some of which spread between Flickr and Twitter). Twitter would take no action while Flickr would immediately ban and remove all traces of the harassment.
The story goes on but the gist is that Twitter refused to ban the aforementioned name calling user despite Ms. Waldman's continued pleas for relief.
I think my first reaction to this was the same as most people's. Ms. Waldman seems like a nice person, nice people don't deserve to be called names, anyone who calls a nice person names is a bad person, bad people deserve to be banned.
What's there to debate?
Well, a lot as it turns out. The question here isn't "is the person doing the name calling bad?" I suspect everyone on the Twitter side dislikes this person and wishes they weren't using the service. The question though is, short of things that are against the law, does Twitter want to become a service that imposes management's values on its users?
Values are not absolute and one person's harassment is another person's "open expression". I completely understand where Ms. Waldman is coming from and wish she wasn't being subjected to this but again, an open society can be unpleasant.
Honestly, I have to grudgingly admit I don't consider the quoted name calling harassment. I don't like it, but since Twitter allows you to block users I think the name caller would have to rise above simple posting to constitute harassment.
If Ms. Waldman blocked the person and they created another account to continue the name calling you might have a case for harassment but as told the story doesn't seem to rise to the harassment level. I mean, its the Internet, where a lot of people encourage others to hate them while outwardly decrying it to get publicity.
Values are relative
This comes back to what I was trying to say in my opening paragraph. If you want your service to be an open platform that represents society than you have to permit the elements of society that you don't like. That includes bad people who call nice people mean names. I wish this name caller would just go away and leave her alone but I don't think I have the right to make them. I suspect the people at Twitter feel the same.
Addendum: For the record, I didn't mention Ms. Waldman's primary claim which is that Twitter should ban the person for violating their Terms of Service agreement which says users won't “abuse, harass, threaten, impersonate or intimidate other Twitter users." Honestly, with no offense intended, I don't consider this argument to have much merit. ToS agreements are to protect the company and they are free to enforce them as they please. Most companies allow violations of their Terms of Service all the time and we all know it.
Addendum 2: I didn’t realize it when I posted but it turns out the account Ms. Waldman wants shut down is in fact an account in which people can post anonymously. So it isn’t a person with a twitter account it’s one of many people who use the account to post anonymous messages. I’ll leave it up to you to decide whether that changes anything but I thought I should put it out there.