Twitter has a problem – a big problem that it just can’t seem to shake. It comes in the form of internet trolls – the anonymous social media users who go out of their way to provoke upset and anguish. The problem is now so bad that the micro messaging site has been described as “toxic“, such are the levels of abuse that are witnessed daily on the site.
But one airline has had enough. And in its latest effort to fight back, it’s won an important victory…
Twitter was once the darling of tech investors with its A-list celeb clients drawing in millions of new users. It was innovative and fun. When Twitter went public on the New York stock exchange in 2013, the company was initially valued at over $24 billion. It was the most highly anticipated tech IPO since Facebook went public.
And then things went sour. User growth started to stall and revenues fell as accusations of rampant online hatred and abuse went unchecked. The situation got so bad that in 2016, Disney reportedly pulled out of a deal to buy Twitter because of the negative image the company had grown.
Hate speak is rampant on Twitter
Fortunately for Twitter, things are looking a little better today. In April, the company said that its monthly active users had jumped 6% to 328 million and daily active users surged 14% from the same quarter last year. Yet, even with those positive figures, revenues continued to fall – after all, what advertiser would want to be linked with a company that has been linked to misogyny, anti-Semitism and Islamophobia?
So what has an airline got to do with all this you may well ask. Well, it’s not just celebrities and public figures who are being targeted daily by Twitter trolls. And in amongst the tide of sexist, racist and other defamatory comments that airline Twitter accounts receive every day is an even more sinister type of message.
The bomb threat.
Sadly, big brand airline’s are receiving this type of threat on a weekly if not daily basis. Every message of this type is a big responsibility for the airline. A specialist security team will have to review the message, carry out a forensic evaluation of the threat and then decide how serious that threat is.
How does an airline respond to a Twitter bomb threat?
The vast majority of these hate filled messages will be classed as low risk – no flights are cancelled or delayed and business goes on as normal. But it’s not quite as simple as that: reports have to be completed, a crime reported to the local law enforcement agency and security measures reviewed. It’s expensive and time-consuming.
It’s hardly surprising that low-cost Irish airline Ryanair, famous for its penny-pinching culture has had enough and decided to fight back. On Friday, the discount carrier announced it had won damages in a case involving a bomb threat that was sent to the airline by an anonymous Twitter user.
The incident took place in February last year when a message from a user called @GunnexGod was sent to the official Ryanair Twitter account:
“Hello @Ryanair, you have 15 minutes before I commit the biggest terror attack the UK has ever seen on one of your planes. Be ready”
The airline originally filed an extortion suit in the Los Angeles Superior Court after a spate of similar Tweets were sent to Ryanair. It turns out that Ryanair was forced to obtain a number of subpoenas from Twitter in order to reveal the identity of the troll – suggesting that Twitter wasn’t willing to otherwise share with Ryanair details of who posted the threat.
Ryanair fights back – and wins…
The airline, however, wasn’t having any of it. Having eventually identified the culprit as Brian Lake of from Pennsylvania, lawyers acting for Ryanair approached The US District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania to file a claim. This week, the court ruled in Ryanair’s favour, awarding $284,148 in damages (including punitive damages) to the airline.
In welcoming the ruling, Ryanair said it would “not allow any individual or group to threaten or impugn its industry leading safety record.” Speaking for the airline, Robin Kiely commented: “The safety of our customers, people and aircraft is our number one priority and we will not allow anyone to impugn, threaten or undermine our 32-year unblemished safety record and will pursue any ‘anonymous’ social media offenders through the courts.”
Whether any other airline now decides to seek damages against these trolls remains to be seen. At the very least, this ruling should hopefully act as a wakeup call for Twitter to take it responsibilities for public safety more seriously.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.