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Feature Article of Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Columnist: Thompson, Kofi

Food For Thought For Ghanaweb's Cowardly Abusers

By Kofi Thompson

For the benefit of the owners and readers of www.ghanaweb.com, today I am reproducing an article culled from the online edition of the UK newspaper, The Daily Telegraph.

It is entitled "Toxic trolls should have no hiding place" and was written by the British Conservative MP for Corby, Louise Mensch.

?At a time when Ghanaians of goodwill need to unite to stop the tiny but vocal minority of tribal-supremacist individuals (found in all the ten regions of our country, incidentally) from destroying our homeland Ghana, with their bigotry, it is unfortunate that such cowardly and uncouth individuals have free rein to propagate their unspeakable abomination online, via Ghanaweb.

Those of them who live outside the shores of Ghana, might find themselves behind bars in the not too distant future, if they don't end their vile vituperation online. ?

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Please read on:

"Wednesday 13 June 2012

Toxic trolls should have no hiding place

Social networks have a duty to identify internet bullies who cower behind anonymity.

My troll, Frank Zimmerman, was a repeat offender targeting women. I hope that the publicity surrounding the case will deter others? Photo: Alamy

By Louise Mensch

8:09PM BST 12 Jun 2012

? 288 Comments

The conviction and sentencing of Frank Zimmerman, the 60-year-old man who threatened my children anonymously over the internet last summer, has aroused much comment. Mr Zimmerman, after having variously claimed that he was agoraphobic, too poor to eat (yet able to use a computer) and that his computer was hacked, was arrested when he failed to turn up for sentencing. He was finally given a suspended term with an extensive restraining order, barring him from contacting me and various other people in public life. If he breaches it, he will go to jail.

I thought the sentence fair. As a mother, it was terrifying to me when I received the email threat, referencing the film Sophie’s Choice in which a Jewish mother has to pick which of her children to send to the gas chambers. I have a Jewish surname, being married to a Jew. The threat was detailed, using photographs of the book and the logos of the hacking groups Anonymous and LulzSec. Of course, the nature of the internet is that you don’t know who is behind the screen. Is it Zimmerman, with his filthy house and his record of targeting women online? Or is it some demented teenager with a gun? I arranged security via House of Commons and Northamptonshire police for my family, as at the time it was my ex-husband’s portion of the holidays with our children. But I felt helpless and attacked.

Over the course of the next couple of weeks Zimmerman escalated his campaign. He rang me: I knew it was him right away – the well-spoken, English voice, the menace – and hung up. He sent emails from various fake accounts, pretending to be a duke, a doctor, a student. He researched obscure material about my husband’s former address and even about my novelist sister.

Luckily, by this time I knew who it was. Terence Blacker of the Independent deserves much of the credit for catching Zimmerman, along with the police’s e-crimes unit. He recognised the use of the LulzSec logo and the sexually graphic abuse – abuse that had been heaped on him previously by Zimmerman, who had once been his next-door neighbour. Like me, at first he was concerned for his family, not knowing who was behind the threats.

In this case valuable police resources were wasted on a person who was not a physical threat. However, he was one who thought nothing of threatening sexual violence and death to various women and children, and researching families and relatives. Zimmerman, a typical troll, operated under the belief that if he hid behind an anonymous internet user name, nothing could happen to him.

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Too often people have believed that the internet is a magical, protected space where nothing they do can be policed. They type threats on their keyboard that they would never utter in person. A rash of such cases has arisen in the past couple of years, and prosecutors are cracking down. In 2011 a 25 year-old, Sean Duffy, was jailed for posting obscene messages about teenagers who had committed suicide. On a memorial website to Natasha MacBryde, who had thrown herself under a train after being bullied, he posted a picture of Thomas the Tank Engine with Natasha’s face superimposed upon it, and called it “Tasha the Tank Engine”.

Nicola Brookes found herself the subject of relentless trolling after posting a comment about (of all things) Frankie Cocozza, a game-show contestant. Fake Facebook pages were set up in her name which, among other things, solicited girls as young as nine for sex. She sued. Online fans of the footballer Ched Evans, jailed for rape, outed his teenage victim on Twitter, posting slurs against her character – it is a crime to name a rape victim, and North Wales police have made 13 arrests so far.

Sexual abuse and bullying comments, mostly directed against women, are par for the course. The Olympic gold medallist swimmer Rebecca Adlington has said she will stay off Twitter after abusive comments were posted about her appearance; a 21 year-old was jailed for 56 days after making racist comments on the site about the footballer Fabrice Muamba.

The Government yesterday introduced new laws to encourage websites and internet service providers to surrender the identity of those posting abuse or libel. This is a good thing. While Muamba and other celebrities may have resources, mothers like Nicola Brookes do not. She should not have to sue Facebook for them to give police information relating to her abusers. My troll, Zimmerman, was a repeat offender targeting women. I hope that he uses the suspended sentence to get some therapy, and that the publicity surrounding the case will deter others.

Ultimately, the internet is just another form of communication; once that is accepted, including by service providers and social media, trolling will lessen. After all, not so long ago it was acceptable to drink and drive. As victims repeatedly fight back, we can hope to see a culture shift.

Louise Mensch is Conservative MP for Corby"

End of culled article from The Daily Telegraph.

One hopes, dear reader, that those uncouth cowards who hide behind computer screens to insult others on www.ghanaweb.com will think twice before typing their ghastly words. A word to the wise...

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