March 5, 2017

Kevin Healy CC BY Rebecca Jones. Used with permission
Kevin Healy CC BY Rebecca Jones. Used with permission

Social networking site Twitter has announced that it will install a ‘report abuse button’ after alleged rape threats were received by a feminist campaigner earlier this week.

For many people with Autism and Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs), Social networking sites are an invaluable form of social interaction, which can be very difficult in real life, but according to Autism Ambassador for the National Autistic Society, Kevin Healy, a report abuse button is just not enough to protect vulnerable people online.

Mr Healy has Autism, and 18 months ago received a death threat from a twitter troll, threatening him with a hit-squad. A troll is defined as ‘a person who sows discord on the internet, in a chatroom or social networking site’. The threat not only put his life on hold for a period of three months, but has left him with a sense of mistrust online.

Autism Daily Newscast spoke with Mr Healy last evening. He said:

“When you have Autism, everything is magnified and made more intense. It’s bad enough for someone who hasn’t got Autism to cope with when they’re being trolled, stalked or harassed online, but for someone who is diagnosed Autistic it has a knock on effect on families too which can make life absolutely impossible.”

Mr Healy set up an anti-bullying campaign in April of this year which aims to see laws and legislation on trolling, and online harassment changed in the very near future. This was partly due to his own online experience.

He said:

“I was completely petrified. I have OCD also, so I was constantly checking everything before going out and checking over my shoulder all the time. I couldn’t go out for months, and then when I finally overcame that I was still checking the house for intruders or signs that someone was out there.

I’ve been trolled, and impersonated online. I very much doubt that the new Twitter button will work. The system is already on the iPhone, but they can’t cope with the complaints they receive now. For every complaint you have to fill in a four page form explaining what that complaint is. I couldn’t fill in the form.”

The ‘report abusive behaviour form‘ on Twitter has absolutely no legislation to back it up. People have also been asked to scan personal documents to Twitter, who are based in America, to verify that it is indeed their account. Some victims of harassment have not had any reply to their faxes, or had their information lost completely.

You can report abuse to a local Police station, but from experience, it is extremely difficult to get the Police to understand the nature of an online threat. In fact they are very unlikely to act unless physical damage has been done, because there are very few laws surrounding internet abuse.

Mr Healy said:

“I reported it straight away. Because my troll was in America the Police were powerless to do anything about it. Even if he was from this country he could have sat behind his computer screen anonymously and got away with saying whatever he wanted. It’s totally unfair.”

Mr Healy has the backing of UK Ministers and European Ministers in trying to set up a new law, protecting people with Autism from the effects of cyber-bullying. An Early day motion was set in place in April stating:

We are  calling for a BILL on Bullying would be a criminal offence for the first time. If a child/Adult was found to be acting in a way that could cause physical or mental harm to another person, cyberbullying, trolling, stalking, harassment, etc they could be charged and prosecuted. Sentencing to take place

A statutory requirement for Government to publish ‘An Autism  Anti-Bullying Strategy for the UK’ and for the Prime Minister to report progress to Parliament annually.

The strategy & Bill to include:

  • Clear roles and responsibilities for government, local government, communities, schools, colleges, universities, workplace 

  • Fully costed measures that enable schools, universities, colleges, Vol sector, local authorities  to take forward the strategy

Mr Healy will be meeting with Justice Equality minister in September to introduce this to Parliament in the UK as a Private members bill.

Mr Healy concludes:

“We live in a society and culture whereby some selective members think it’s ok to sit behind a screen like cowards and hurl abuse at other people. For someone who takes something very literally as Autism sufferers do, this can be very dangerous, and something more than a report abuse button needs to come of it.”


About the author 

Shân Ellis

Shân Ellis, is a qualified journalist with five years experience of writing features, blogging and working on a regional newspaper. Prior to working as a journalist, she was a ghost writer for top publishers and was closely involved in the editing and development of book series. Shân has a degree in the sciences, and 5 A levels. She lives in the UK and is the mother of an autistic child.

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