'I won't let the trolls win': autism-rights campaigner has battled online abuse for five years

'I could switch off all my social media accounts but then the trolls have won' - Autism campaigner Kevin Healey has been trolled for 5 years

Online abuse can have a huge negative effect on social media users

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

A prominent autism rights campaigner has accused Twitter of failing to protect him from online abuse, but insists that he will not turn off his social media because then "the trolls have won". 

Kevin Healey, the founder of the Staffordshire Asperger's & Autism Association, told Paul Ross: "Because of my autism, I use social media to engage with people and to communicate with the outside world.

"I first went on Twitter about eight years ago. The first year was OK, but going into the second year I started getting harassment tweets and disability hate speech.

"It progressed after that and started getting a lot worse, with people cloning my Twitter profile – my picture and bio – pretending to be me and sending out horrific tweets. 

"My accounts are protected on other social media platforms, like Facebook, but I’ve been impersonated on Twitter for five years and they won't verify me. They say I don't meet the eligibility criteria."

On its website, Twitter says it verifies accounts of "highly sought users in music, acting, fashion, government, politics, religion, journalism, media, sports, business and other key interest areas", adding that "we do not accept requests for verification from the general public".

A trustee for the National Autistic Society, Healey spoke about how continued online abuse affects his life.

"If you're out in the street and somebody attacks you, you can walk away from the situation," he said. "But when you're being trolled online it's with you 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

"I never engage with the trolls, because if you engage with them it's feeding them.

"I could switch off all my social media accounts, but then the trolls have won. I'm not going to let that happen."

The 41-year-old from Staffordshire says he has complained to the police about his ongoing harassment online, but their investigations have led to little success.

“Different countries have different rules," he said. "And because my trolls are outside the country they can’t be prosecuted. 

"I always screenshot the [abusive] tweets as evidence, but I don't know why I do that any more because these trolls cannot be prosecuted."