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Even Grandmothers Can Be Online Trolls

U.K. company Saga shutters its social media site for seniors after online trolls produce a stream of abuse and mayhem.

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10 Social Networks For Special Interests
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The dangers of social media openness have been underlined by news that a social media site for older consumers has been taken offline due to offensive remarks by British "silver surfers."

Saga is a well-known U.K. brand offering travel packages and financial products aimed at older people, and it enjoys an enviable reputation of trust. The company had been attempting to service over 50s equally well in cyberspace, setting up an online forum called Saga Zone. The relatively basic site was dubbed "Facebook for Grannies" by the allegedly more hip, and the system soon attracted many thousands of registered viewers, although the number of regular contributors seems to have been more like the low hundreds.

Well, those "Grannies" seemed to catch on pretty quick -- and become expert trolls and flamers before long. Saga has closed the site due to unrestrained posts from its users, stating on its home page that it is now read-only and the whole thing will be taken down later this month.

[ Can you pick out the most relevant wheat from the social media chaff? See Are Universal Social Engagement Standards Possible? ]

What went wrong? Saga Zone's home page now says, "Recently there have been complaints about content posted in the Soapbox and Debate Zone. We closed these areas of the site but people continued to post controversial and offensive content on other areas of the site." Specifically, the company said there were "some particularly vicious exchanges recently" between posters commenting about events in the Middle East that had degenerated in to a stream of anti-Semitic or anti-Arab comments.

Saga spokesman Paul Green told The Telegraph that, "We discovered what I believe are called trolls with multiple online personalities, because messages were coming from the same computer -- sometimes with names from both sexes." When the volume of illegal, offensive and hateful remarks got too high, the company felt it had to step in.

The company said it took the move deliberately to protect its brand reputation. "An online free-for-all might be alright for other social networks such as Twitter but expectations are different when there is the Saga logo in the top right-hand corner," Green told The Telegraph.

The Saga Zone home page says, "Saga Zone is in a Saga branded environment and when members post content that others find offensive on a company's website it can impact how the company itself is viewed. We are sad that the site has been used to post offensive messages and that we cannot continue to run Saga Zone with the threat to the brand that this content poses."

The news poses some interesting questions for some U.K. observers on how to best police the Twittersphere. There have been a number of incidents in recent months where offensive remarks have led to prosecution, but this week Keir Starmer, director of public prosecutions, said too many investigations into comments on social networks would have a "chilling effect" for free speech in the country.

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Celyn
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Celyn,
User Rank: Apprentice
2/13/2013 | 9:52:18 PM
re: Even Grandmothers Can Be Online Trolls
Bit sexist blaming grannies!! There were minimal offensive posts. There were a few strongly opinionated people, did Saga expect that the 50 + fraternity lost all their marbles and didn't have strong points of view? It was a site that most enjoyed, making friendships and even romances developed. It provided support for many elderly people who will now, after being given this socialisation lifeline by Saga, have had it ripped away without warning leaving them deeply saddened. Saga have a social responsibility to the forum members from who they have taken away a comfort zone where they could talk through their troubles and socialsie with on line friends, many who met up at *meets* throughout the country. It had become a *community*. This is the positive side, which was the prolific side. One or two trolls!! What a surprise, and nothing to make such a song and dance about.
James
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James,
User Rank: Apprentice
2/13/2013 | 9:22:23 PM
re: Even Grandmothers Can Be Online Trolls
Reality. Saga's owner was losing -4.1 billion and the zone was a lose maker. Badly promoted and moderated. A very few trolls, the actual ones that is with proxy ISPs not the MARRIED couples sharing a computer had been causing problems for years. Sagazone would occasionaly ban them then ignore them coming back under a different name. Most of the forum members used it for support. Some housebound, some bedbound accessing through carers, some depressed all manners of problems relating to age. Over the past few weeks they were banning for no reason, well they gave none. Typically people seeing a friend banned wondered why. Not even the person knew as they had NEVER posted anything offensive.as they were sticking to the support areas. In one case involving a group going through bereavement one got banned. Others asked so they got banned and then the whole discussion around the mutual support running back several years was deleted. Nothing at all to do with racist etc. etc. Oh and then, against policy, they "banned" the dead partner of one these. Claimed they had deleted themselves after death. Must be because they shared the same computer. Or those who had taken over had no idea of what they were doing.
It became, increasingly, a big company trying to bully the zone members. To repeat none of these were posting bigoted comments. These all stayed well clear of the areas where this things might be discussed. On the areas where it had been happening the moderators had ignored all abusive postings and seemed to encourage them, foot traffic increasing advertising income? It was down to other members to slap them down, and on the whole they did. This was simply a matter of Saga bailing out earlier than planned. The zone members had read the business pages and were aware it was likely to close down. Instead of dignified closure however they have labelled everyone over 50 as elderly bigots. A theme the parts of the media that have noticed have picked up like a dog with bone whilst ignoring the realities of what actually happened there. Saga's corporate name now stinks. The media are not the only source. Most of those kicked in the teeth and had their support pulled away have reconnected and posting on other forums around the net. And they are very angry indeed.
GBARRINGTON196
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GBARRINGTON196,
User Rank: Apprentice
2/7/2013 | 1:58:30 PM
re: Even Grandmothers Can Be Online Trolls
I'm willing to bet the offensive material came from long established trouble-makers and not from the clientele that this site intended to serve. That's not to say us 'legacy humans' are any less screwed up than the rest of the population, but I DO like to think we manifest our insanity with more class and sense of style than the average troll and eStalker.
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