When my friend turned to me in the car on Saturday afternoon to say Charlotte Dawson had been found dead, I immediately felt a sense of deep sadness and loss.It wasn’t because I knew her personally or that I was an avid fan of what she did. It was more the fact that this larger-than-life woman, who had fought a very public battle against depression, had lost her fight.
Plagued by Twitter “trolls” since 2012, it was no secret Dawson had her demons. She attempted suicide after the vitriol and abuse got too much, tweeting “You win x” to her followers on August 30, 2012 at 2:07am. She was then hospitalised before appearing on 60 Minutes not a week later, speaking out against the trolls.
Less than two years later, she killed herself.
Dawson said the Twitter haters caused her depression. Now it seems they have led her to end her own life.
Since her death, the Australian Government has been urged to do something, anything, to stop the trolls. Several campaigns have been launched since 2012, including, The Daily Telegraph‘s #StopTheTrolls, the hash-tag movement #ZEROTROLLERANCE started by Jules Lund, and online petitions calling for a “Charlotte’s Law” to be introduced by the Government.
The idea of spreading the word that online trolling is abhorrent and won’t be tolerated is the right way to react to the sad news of her death. People who spew mindless hate on social media should be condemned. But does that mean government should step in to monitor us, to decide that what we say on social media is right or wrong?
If the Australian government were to pass laws to implement an “e-safety” commissioner (as discussed on Triple J’s Hack last night), would that compromise the ideal of free speech?
Social media exists as a tool where users can pretty much post whatever they like. From selfies to food porn, it’s all there for the world to see. We are the writers, photographers and editors of our own lives on social media. If some choose to use these mediums in a less than honourable way, well… that’s ultimately their choice and maybe not for a commissioner to judge.
No one can possibly condone the acts and words that come from the keyboards of trolls; we should condemn them.
Maybe this is more a cultural issue than a political one…
As a community we can stand as a whole against people who think trolling is okay. The media can continue to report on the horrible outcomes of cyber-bullying. Campaigns like #ZEROTROLLERANCE can continue to spread the word and raise awareness.
Maybe we can fix this, so the Government can leave unfettered our right to free speech.
The Newsroom has been very lucky to have Mark Mulligan with us for the past two weeks. I’d like to take this chance to thank him for working incredibly hard with our writers and committing his very valuable time to us here in The Newsroom.
This week we gave Basmah Qazi our editor’s prize for writing the top story published by The Newsroom in the past three weeks. Her piece Beauty bares its ugly side was a thoughtful insight into the beauty industry’s disgraceful use of animals in testing for its products. Well done, Basmah!
The prize will be awarded every three weeks and is based on highest number of reader views and section editors’ assessment.