Criado-Perez: why did Twitter troll pair make rape threats?

Jan 9, 2014

Isabella Sorley and John Nimmo admit to sending abusive messages to feminist campaigner last year

THE conviction of two Twitter trolls who threatened to rape feminist campaigner Caroline Criado-Perez has prompted commentators to reflect on the causes of internet abuse. 

Yesterday at Westminster Magistrates' Court, Isabella Sorley, 23, of Newcastle-on-Tyne, and John Nimmo, 25, of South Shields, admitted to sending the abusive messages.

Sorley and Nimmo, who will be sentenced later this month, were among many Twitter trolls to target Criado-Perez last July as she celebrated the Bank of England's decision to put Jane Austen on the next £10 bank note.

In a series of tweets, Sorley told Criado-Perez to "f*** off and die you worthless piece of crap" and "rape is the last of your worries". Nimmo told her "ya not that gd looking to rape u be fine", followed by "I will find you :)" and then the message "rape her nice ass".

In The Guardian, Gaby Hinsliff puts the menacing tweets down to boredom, highlighted by the fact that Nimmo's own lawyer described him as a recluse with no friends and nothing to do all day. "Strip away the understandable shock at what is said and so much online vitriol boils down to nothing more than bored people, disappointed and dissatisfied with their own lives, poking others with sticks," she says.

In the New Statesman, Helen Lewis believes Nimmo's motivation was a cry for attention and that learning difficulties may also have come into play.

Sorley has apologised, claiming she was drunk and "jumped on the bandwagon" and even told the New Statesman: "Of course, I support women's rights, being one myself." But Lewis questions her remorse, pointing to seemingly unrepentant tweets sent days earlier and a selfie outside Buckingham Palace posted hours before she pleaded guilty.

"I guess you just can't cure stupid," says Ian O'Doherty in the Irish Independent. Illiterate as their threats might have been, they do not fall under the protection of freedom of speech, he says. For O'Doherty the most interesting aspect of the case was that the threats of rape came from a woman, which he says seems somehow worse than a man sending the same messages.

Criado-Perez yesterday told BBC Newsnight that she felt "sad" that one of the perpetrators was female. It demonstrates how certain women have internalised the "misogyny and sexism" running through society so much so that they are spreading it themselves, she said. Criado-Perez added that she feels "incredibly lucky in comparison to a lot of women who don't see any justice whatsoever".

Today's Times editorial describes the convictions as "overdue but hugely important" and criticises the police for telling victims to simply close their accounts.

"In 2014, telling someone threatened with rape via Twitter or Facebook to shut down her account is akin to telling her to stay at home," it says. "This is not about censorship. It is about ensuring the same basic freedoms in the virtual world as in the real one, and none too soon."

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