Today, the news was broken that Broadway performer Marty Thomas was suing Twitter to find out the identity of an anonymous user who was spreading vicious lies about Thomas. The tweeter, “bwayanonymous” used their tweets to spread gossip and rumors about New York performers without and repercussions for the words they were spreading.
Also today, Michigan Ass’t Attorney General, Andrew Shirvell was condemned by the Michigan Civil Rights Commission for having stalked and built an anti-gay website against University of Michigan student council president, Chris Armstrong. The commission demanded that Shirvell be immediately fired and that a thorough investigation be opened into Shirvell’s activities as Ass’t AG. The commission is trying to find out if Shirvell took any part in any anti-discrimination cases during his tenure in the AG’s office.
Both of these cases of cyber-bullying are troubling. Unfortunately with Marty’s case, the anonymous component makes it that much more dangerous. The things being posted on Twitter, or truly any online forum that allows anonymous registration can hurt people’s personal lives, careers and in some cases cause young people to take their own lives – as we’ve seen recently. Here’s a comment Marty has given to Talk About Equality about his experiences:
“I’ve been a performer most of my life, and in the public eye to some degree since I was very young. Since my introduction to the internet, people posting their support or distaste for performers has always been an accepted thing. I do understand that by placing myself in the public eye as a performer I am opening myself up to criticism and judgment. However, there is certainly a line that can be easily crossed by the media. A public media forum, ranging from the New York Times to the National Enquirer isn’t allowed to write slanderous and defamatory comments as fact. They are allowed to state their opinions but writers are held accountable for lies that are printed that can adversely affect another persons life or career.
With the introduction of social networking sites, it seems to be getting more and more forgivable that journalists write whatever they feel like and whatever they can invent to bring down a human being. Professional and accredited journalists aside, Social Networking sites like Twitter will offer anyone with a computer or fancy phone an anonymous voice and platform to say anything they like, while hiding behind a veil of anonymity. This isn’t fair, or legal. When someone spreads vicious defamatory lies in any public forum, they should be held accountable and made to answer for their actions. This is why we have a public court system, to protect citizens from situations like this.
I didn’t release this story to the press, nor did I want the public attention that this story has received. I filed a suit in court against Twitter because it was the only legal action I had to find the identity of an individual who has been stalking me, and bullying me via the internet. I’m not the only performer this particular Twitter account has attacked, and there are countless accounts just like this one. It definitely makes you feel powerless to read something horrible and false about yourself in a public forum and know that there is absolutely nothing you can do about it.
The news is flooded with stories of innocent people losing their jobs, their sanity and going as far as taking their own lives due to bullying. Mine is a clear cut case of cyber bullying that simply must be dealt with. It’s very easy to write mean things about someone when you don’t have to stand up and take credit for your comments. It’s high time that these sites take responsibility and force users to attatch a face and name to their thoughts/feelings/accusations. I have stood up for myself and am proud to say that I won’t be bullied and I won’t stand for misinformation of any kind being spread about my life in any forum.”
We all need to take a stand against bullying, whether it be online or offline. We applaud Marty for trying to make a difference.