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Packing a real punch

india Updated: Mar 14, 2013 21:24 IST
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A quick warning folks. Don't try this at home. When boxer Curtis Woodhouse lost his welterweight title last week he probably felt pretty rough. Then he was taunted on Twitter by someone calling himself "The Master", telling him he was "a complete disgrace". Nice.

But Twitter isn't nice. "Come on guys, it's just banter!" "Can't you take a joke?" Well, you are certainly meant to take it lying down if you are any kind of minor celebrity, or worse, a woman.

Woodhouse, however, did what we have all secretly wanted to do and went a little Travis Bickle: "Here is a man who would not take it anymore. Here is a man who stood up against the scum." Having been routinely abused by this man, he decided to find his address, go round and have it out face-to-face.

Social media doesn't do face-to-face. It does jokes, one-liners, boasts. The disconnect between what one says online and how it is received by an actual person is lost in a murk of babble. Anyone who is perceived as powerful is not allowed to react like a human being.

Curtis may have lost the fight, but he smashed through that barrier. He was driving round to his abuser's house tweeting his road sign. By now "The Master", actually a man called Jimmy, was scared. "Chill out pal I was only doing it so you would bite back it was only a bit of harmless fun," he tweeted.

Many guys have said similar things to me online after having threatened to rape or to cut me up. They only wanted me to notice them, they said. As Curtis soon found out, many of us would happily pay him to drive around the country to have a word with their abusers (calling them trolls is misleading).

No one is advocating violence. But I would like the relentless stream of online abuse to stop. Often, it is random and meaningless, and done simply because it can be. Of course, I can be rude myself. But when I am rude in writing it's in my name - I am not hiding.

I recently got so bored of the constant abuse that I decided to take some time out of Twitter. And I wonder if I am the only one. Has Twitter peaked? More and more people may join but the percentage of those who actively tweet remains fairly constant.

Perhaps there is a lull in tweeting because we have hit a time where the next stage of online etiquette has to be worked out. It's one thing to defend anonymity on the grounds that it is necessary for the activism of the Arab spring, it is quite another when it is used to bully and taunt women almost constantly.

Anonymity is not revolutionary when it is used to gag the weak. I believe in letting people have their say. But if you wouldn't say it to someone's face why say it online? So I applaud Curtis Woodhouse. The reality is he didn't even have to get out of the car. I wouldn't say he lost that particular fight.