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Today in things that make us scream incoherently

Petition Calls for a “Report Abuse” Button on Twitter After Female Journalist Receives Hundreds of Threats

Last week it was announced that the Bank of England would put Jane Austen on the £10 note, making her only the third non-royal woman to appear on British currency. We took it as good news, but a lot of other people… er… really didn’t. One of the women who successfully campaigned for women’s inclusion on bills has been getting tons of abuse and rape threats via Twitter and has responded by taking the site to ask for their “completely inadequate” system for reporting abuse. The cause has taken hold, and now there’s a petition with 60,000+ signatures to have Twitter add a “report abuse” button to individual tweets.

The person in question, freelance journalist Caroline Criado-Perez, says starting when the new Jane Austen bills were announced she began to receive “about 50 abusive tweets an hour for about 12 hours,” which made her aware of “a nest of men who co-ordinate attacks on women.” Personal information, including her home address, was also published.

She tried to get in touch with Mark S. Luckie, Twitter’s manager of journalism and news, who failed to respond and temporarily locked down his account. (He later tweeted that Twitter’s abuse policies is “an area in which I don’t directly work” and that he had to lock his account, ironically, because he started receiving abusive comments. People! Stop sending abusive tweets! To anyone! In general!)

The way things are now there’s a form that users can fill out to report abuse, and one can also block and ignore individual users. Says a Twitter spokesperson:

“The ability to report individual tweets for abuse is currently available on Twitter for iPhone and we plan to bring this functionality to other platforms, including Android and the web.

We don’t comment on individual accounts. However, we have rules which people agree to abide by when they sign up to Twitter. We will suspend accounts that once reported to us, are found to be in breach of our rules.

We encourage users to report an account for violation of the Twitter rules by using one of our report forms.”

So, basically, “We have a system! We swear we have a system!” But that system clearly doesn’t work when one is getting abusive Tweets in high volume, Anita Sarkeesian-style, an issue that the spokesperson notably doesn’t acknowledge.

Criado-Perez isn’t the only one incensed by the way things are now. Kim Graham started the aforementioned petition, which reads in part: [sic to all]

…abuse on Twitter is common; Sadly too common. And it frequently goes ignored. We need Twitter to recognise that it’s current reporting system is below required standards. It currently requires users to search for details on how to report someone for abuse; A feature that should be available on each user’s page.

It is time Twitter took a zero tolerance policy on abuse… The report abuse button needs to be accompanied by Twitter reviewing the T&C on abusive behaviour to reflect an awareness of the complexity of violence against women, and the multiple oppressions women face…

It’s time Twitter started protecting its users.

And it’s not just Graham. MP Stella Creasy has spoken up as well, saying what’s happening to Criado-Perez “is not a technology crime – this is a hate crime. If they were doing it on the street, the police would act… I am absolutely furious with Twitter that they are not engaging in this at all.” She added: “A quick look at Twitter this morning shows that women are not prepared to stand by and take this kind of abuse. Twitter needs to get its house in order, and fast.”

Further, journalist Caitlin Moran has called for a 24-hour Twitter boycott on August 4th, with the hopeful goal of getting Twitter to come up with an “anti-troll policy.”

So what has all this public backlash accomplished so far? Not much on Twitter’s end; Tony Wang, the general manager of Twitter UK, tweeted that they’re “testing ways to simplify reporting, e.g. with a Tweet by using the ‘Report Tweet’ button in our iPhone app and on mobile web” and further encouraged users to report “violation of the Twitter rules.” C’mon, Twitter. “Just use the tools we’ve already given you”? But those clearly don’t work. The Daily Dot writes about how a “report abuse” button might not work either, as there would be no way to stop trolls from flagging any random person who does something they don’t like (someone like Criado-Perez, say). To avoid legitimate accounts being shut down en masse all the abuse reports would have to be looked at by an actual human, which might be impractical considering how many Twitter users there are. (The Daily Dot estimates that “Twitter would need hundreds of new employees or volunteer moderators just to sift through all the reports. And, of course, once one troll account has been banned, it only takes a couple of minutes to set up a new one and start sending abusive tweets all over again.”)

Valid points, all. But something has to be done, Twitter’s response hasn’t exactly engendered confidence that they’re actually researching what that something will be. As if that’s not bad enough, they don’t seem to realize that there even is a problem with how they currently do things. And that’s just insulting on top of wrong.

There has been some action taken against the abusers, but it wasn’t from Twitter: After Criado-Perez reported the abusive Tweets, a 21-year-old Manchester man was arrested “on suspicion of harassment offenses.”

Good on the Manchester police, but that’s just one man. It’s on Twitter to do more—much more—than it’s currently doing. I mean, even Facebook has started to wise up when it comes to putting the kibosh on abuse threats. Facebook.

(via: BBC, Jezebel, The Daily Dot)

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  • Anonymous

    As an avid Twitter user, I find their lack of action completely deplorable. There is a CRIME being committed right under their noses and they are basically washing their hands of it.

    I’ve read some of the comments and they’re frightening. And just because a woman campaigned and managed to get Jane Austen on a bank note.

    I think that some of these harassers need serious medical help if something so trivial enrages them to the point of threats of murder and rape.

  • Anonymous

    I do think something needs to be done, but I also understand just how monumental a task it would be to try and implement a system to handle it and I can’t think of any easy solutions to the issue. Maybe if more people could be threatened with arrest/prosecution that would help, but arranging that would still be a monumental task and it would just drive people underground and into using IP scramblers and whatnot.

    Should these bastards get away with their abusive crap? Obviously not. But what should twitter do to stop it? Hiring dozens/hundreds more people to weed through reported abuse cases isn’t economically likely.

  • Jill Pantozzi

    I’m surprised a petition like this didn’t come earlier. I’ve gotten terrible threats on Twitter. Reminds me of when a bunch of women who write about comics had a troll attacking us and Mark Millar had to get involved before any legal action was taken.

  • Anonymous

    I agree. What is Twitter supposed to be able to do within 24 hours of an incident like this? You can’t implement a new feature (report abuse) button in that timeframe.

    I also disagree that twitter needs a “zero tolerance” approach–that’s a very very wide approach that could too easily be abused.

    Perhaps a better solution would be a way for individuals to take abusive tweeters to the police and have a way for police to search for the real-life people? That seems like the only way the abusive language that is truly troublesome could be stopped.

  • Anonymous

    I am really not impressed with all of this “harumph, harumph, *something* needs to be done!” stuff. I have yet to see a single suggestion that would combat Twitter trolls effectively and not do *more* harm to less privileged Twitter users – almost every suggestion just gives another weapon to the trolls.

  • Rebecca Pahle

    I agree that they can’t implement any new system in 24 hours, but their response to the whole thing has still been awful. They need new PR people.

  • Anonymous

    What is the report abuse feature currently like? Is it just a default “this person/post is bad and needs to go away” or are there classifications? This is spam. This is abusive language. This is a physical threat. I mean it’d still require more manpower than Twitter is probably able to dedicate, but maybe breaking it into smaller clusters would help and then higher priority could be given to, say, threats of physical violence over generic spam.

    And no, expecting an instantaneous reaction is unreasonable, but blowing off complaints with a “talk to the hand” attitude isn’t helpful, either.

  • Anonymous

    I didn’t see their reaction as at all “talk to the hand.” It seems like standard PR-in-a-box “please use our existing policy as we work on new features.” Lacking empathy? Absolutely. Probably insufficient? Yes, in the long run. But not mean or blowing off the concerns, just empty. So I may agree with Rebecca that they could use a refresher, but that doesn’t make them a hive of villainy, either.

  • Anonymous

    Something needs to be done and Twitter is not doing anything about it. Anita Sarkeesian has reported this form of abuse to Twitter, to which they responded, “We have found the reported account is currently not in violation of the Twitter Rules at this time.” That alleged abuser threatened to rape Sarkeesian when he had the chance. Un-fucking-believable. If there is a protest coming, send me the deets and I’ll spread it around.

  • Hawkes006

    This is a really fascinating microcosm on the 1st Ammendment. We all agree that the harassment and threats are straight up wrong, and the people behind it are morally bankrupt cowards. BUT when it comes to what to do about it, we can clearly see that any action used to police THEIR hate speech can be turned on the victims of their attacks. Even if hundreds of people were involved, going case by case, there would be discrepancies and differences in how the rules are applied. Someone needs to get a HS teacher up in here, THIS is how you can make history relevant to kids today!

    Also, you’ve accidentally identified Mark S Luckie as Facebook’s manager of journalism, instead of Twitter.

  • Shard Aerliss

    An automated report abuse button will be abused.

    What to do then? Tricky due to differences in international law. Twitter is based in America. Many of its users are not. What can be done, legally, about someone making rape threats from a computer in Chile, via the network in America, to a person in Britain?

    A non-automated report abuse button?

    I’m sure they could vet, hire and manage an army of volunteers to deal with complaints quite easily. That’s going to take time and I don’t think they’d announce such a plan until they were ready to implement it anyway.

    For now, while Twitter’s response seems unenthusiastic at best, I don’t think they can do or say much more than “keep using the tools we’ve got, we’re looking into a solution, we swear!”

  • Shard Aerliss

    Remember Twitter users aren’t all American. This latest bout of hate is aimed at a British woman. Does the 1st Amendment apply to non-US citizens in non-US territories if they’re using a US service? Discussion for your theoretical HS teacher; SHOULD it?

    Also, where is the line drawn, in various nations, between hate speech and freedom of speech? At what point does freedom of speech impinge on freedom from abuse?

    Come on kids, 500 words, due in a week tomorrow! XD

  • Anonymous

    Holy. Crap. WTH is wrong with people who can summon up this much vitriol for something so innocuous?

  • Anonymous

    I want to say that the relevant laws depend on where Twitter’s servers are housed, but I’m not 100% sure about that.

  • Adam R. Charpentier

    Rebecca Pahle and some other Twitter users chastized a very douchey Texas radio DJ a few weeks ago for his sexist comments. I joined in just in time to receive a death threat along with Pahle: “tell me where you live. i’ll kill you, and your family, and then your relatives. bye.”

    I took this in stride. I’ve been around the Internet long enough to understand that sometimes you can huddle in a cave or you have to take your chances. I answered him with another jest, then shortly thereafter told my wife about it. She blew up. Understandably. The Tweet wasn’t just directed at me, after all, and I had taken it for granted that he was a harmless fart, soon to be lost in the breeze. So, at her insistence (and with many grovelling yet sincere apologies from me), I contacted Twitter, told Pahle that I was doing so, and waited. Then, for kicks, I followed the URL attached to his Twitter account, found a listing for his domain registration (using the same first and last name), with his Texas address, then a Google search brought me to his Facebook page for his radio show. I sent all of this information to his local police station with a message indicating that while I assumed that he was not actually planning to kill anyone, someone that has a paid position communicating with the public across social media should know better and that I assumed that, obviously, I was within my rights to complain about a death threat.

    So, Twitter got back to me. They said the threats were “not in violation” of their rules. The reason? You have to send along the specific Tweet (using their current system) that’s in violation and, sometime during the night, the guy had had deleted the Tweet. So, there was no record so far as they were concerned. I pointed out that I still had the original e-mail informing me of the Tweet and its contents. I told them I had informed his local police. They never got back to me and further e-mails resulted in no communication from them whatsoever.

    The police, however, were more than helpful. A desk jockey responded immediately and then I was put in touch with a sergeant that agreed with me, that we shouldn’t be threatened, that she took the complaint very seriously, and that some detectives would be visiting his house.

    I never got around to contacting his radio show, though I suppose I should have…anyway, the sergeant’s response satisfied my wife, and she slept less fitfully.

  • Hawkes006

    Oh man, this could be used for so many classes now! Kids could actually learn something from this!

  • Jill Pantozzi

    ” You have to send along the specific Tweet (using their current system) that’s in violation and, sometime during the night, the guy had had deleted the Tweet. So, there was no record so far as they were concerned. ”

    See, THAT is a huge problem. I can’t believe they wouldn’t have access to that deleted tweet and besides that, deletion shouldn’t be a loophole.

  • Rebecca Pahle

    I saw this with my name at first and freaked out because I had NO memory of any of that happening. Yay, I am not insane!

  • Anonymous

    This wouldn’t be a 1st Amendment case, even if it was in America since this is about Twitter policing itself. Besides, threats aren’t covered under the 1st Amendment

  • Anonymous

    I’m sorry, who is saying that Twitter has to do this in 24 hrs?

  • Adam R. Charpentier

    Hah, sorry. Whenever I read an article, I note the author in my head. Your name stuck with me when I began typing and…yeah, no, you didn’t lose time. Promise!

  • Adam R. Charpentier

    Agreed. The threat remained in my head, as do our responses to his Tweet, so there’s an obvious web around it. I don’t see why the automatic e-mail they sent me isn’t plenty of proof. The police took it seriously enough.

  • Anonymous

    I was being a little loose with the timeline, but as the incident began last week, I just mean that it is unlikely they can make a new button–or otherwise find an expedient way to manage threatening behavior–in the week since the event.

  • Anonymous

    “But what should twitter do to stop it? Hiring dozens/hundreds more
    people to weed through reported abuse cases isn’t economically likely.”

    Why not? Twitter is a massive business that, according to several sources, is extremely profitable (Twitter is privately held so they don’t release their finances). By all accounts, they have plenty of money to hire people. Besides, adding in filters to their system to flag all the tweets that have words like “rape” or “kill” would be very easy. Also, shutting down an account is also very easy for them to do.

    Admittedly, people will be able to get around any system and, yes, people can use IP scramblers or other tools to get around any system or, like most spammers, start a new account or hack into somebody else’s but I guarantee you that if you put up some roadblock, 70-80% of it will stop. Maybe more. Because right now, me tweeting that I want to kill or rape Rebecca or Jill or anybody else is just about the easiest thing in the world. It is amazing how, quite often, the biggest deterrent is often just making it require effort.

  • eag46

    I can’t wrap my head around that part either. It’s Jane Austen on money. Where is all that hatred coming from?!

  • Anonymous

    Oh okay. Thanks!

  • Hawkes006

    I’m not saying it is, I’m saying it’s a microcosm which can be used to educate people on the concerns that relate to and inform 1st Amendment. The actions Twitter now has to consider, as a private company well within it’s rights to do so, are the same kind of considerations a government would have to make on a larger scale when considering how to draw the line on speech. Twitter defining policies and enforcement methods is akin to a government drawing the line between a speech and threat, or policing someone shouting “Fire” in a theater. Twitter, much like a government, has to figure out a way to enforce it’s rules, without creating tools that can be then used to outlaw legitimate posts/speech.

    It’s a great opportunity as an education tool!

  • Jeff Demos

    I’m surprised that Twitter doesn’t already have a report function.

  • Rebecca Pahle

    It does, it’s just useless when there’s a torrent of abuse like this.

  • brilance

    Someone else mentioned this idea on Facebook, I think in the comments on this article, but I thought it was such a good idea that I wanted to post it here too.

    One thing that Twitter could do, that might be less prone to abuse than a “Report Abuse” button, is give Twitter profiles the ability to disable @mentions of that Twitter account. If this option was enabled, @mentions of that account would be treated like regular text and not a link. This would prevent the user from automatically seeing tweets that other people @mention them in, and prevent other people browsing twitter from easily getting a list of those tweets.

    So if someone was getting a flood of abuse, they could temporarily disable @mentions and not receive those tweets. And it would deter trolls because there was no guarantee their tweet would be seen by the intended recipient.

  • Anonymous

    Maybe they should revamp the system so it automatically includes the offensive tweet as proof that you aren’t making it up. That way even if they delete it later there’s still an imprint/capture of the tweet. It can’t be THAT hard to code it.

  • Alissa Knyazeva

    This has nothing to do with Jane Austen and everything with the fact that a woman dared to have an opinion that she showed she was willing to stand behind.

  • Anonymous

    I don’t think the 1st amendment technically applies, since Twitter is a private business and not owned by the government. I mean, yes, they should absolutely work to ban hate speech – and it’s can be an interesting debate about where that starts – but legally they don’t have to if they decide they’re comfortable promoting that sort of environment.

  • Anonymous

    As much as I want there to be an easy solution to all of this, I can’t think of anything that wouldn’t be turned on those trying to report abuse once implemented. Think of Tumblr – where blogs calling people out on racism routinely get reported and shut down, but Tumblr seems to refuse to do the same for those hurling abuse at minorities.

    Really the only thing I can think of would be turning the tables and creating our own team who devotes time and energy into delving into the internet histories and figuring out who these people are and reporting them to real life employers/local police. Basically turning some of their tactics against them.

  • stella

    Wait what… but why? Isn’t a pretty big overreaction to someones picture on money? People really freak me out sometimes.

  • stella

    Wait… what? But why? Isnt this kid of an overreaction to someones face on money? People freak me out sometimes.

  • Hawkes006

    I’m not saying it is, I’m saying it’s a microcosm which can be used to educate people on the concerns that relate to and inform 1st Amendment. The actions Twitter now has to consider, as a private company well within it’s rights to do so, are the same kind of considerations a government would have to make on a larger scale when considering how to draw the line on speech. Twitter defining policies and enforcement methods is akin to a government drawing the line between a speech and threat, or policing someone shouting “Fire” in a theater. Twitter, much like a government, has to figure out a way to enforce it’s rules, without creating tools that can be then used to outlaw legitimate posts/speech.

    It’s a great opportunity as an education tool!

  • Jeremy

    Addendum to this story (possibly mentioned in comments but I didn’t see it):

    “British police have arrested a 21-year-old man suspected of posting rape threats on Twitter.

    The man arrested on Sunday appears to be part of a Twitter-based cybermob that has been harassing feminist activist Caroline Criado-Perez since since at least Wednesday July 24, when the Bank of England announced its decision to make author Jane Austen the face of the British 10-pound note after a successful campaign led by Criado-Perez.”

    While we could hope this would be a lesson to all who would make such threats, alas I’m sure it wont be.

  • Shard Aerliss

    This is similar to what Stavvers said in her excellent article on the issue; we need solidarity. We need to, to steal a previously coined term, shout back. There are in fact more of us than them, we’re just too damn rational and polite.

    There are various Anonymous Ops that hunt down online bullies already, so it is not unheard of. These idiots (they are idiots, only idiots have such opinions) are not the best at hiding their identity. In one hilarious episode today, an abusive little worm was threatened with informing his mother and grovelled;

    Hi-larious. Also today, Toby Young, another rotten piece of filth, made piggish remarks about an MP’s cleavage and, after receiving a barrage of replies cried “abuse”.

    Shout back. Fight back. Hit back. If you see someone who can’t then stand up for them.

    Maybe it’s the uproarious Mumford and Sons tracks I’m listening to…

  • Shard Aerliss

    21? Don’t 21 year olds have better things to do with their time than harass people online? When I was 21… okay, I was pretty much harassing Operation Rescue… but it was with logic, science and maths! Maths!!

  • Anonymous

    Wow. Just wow. At the whole thing really.

  • Aundrea Singer

    What amazes me is that enough people (just men?) would have so much of a problem with the idea of a non-royal woman on a pound note that they would harass someone who supported the idea. What the hell?

  • Sophie

    Yeah, I wish that amazed me too.

  • Aundrea Singer

    True. I wish it amazed me more…

  • app

    Of course that would mean not being able to discuss the rape culture that exists in this world, on Twitter, or even mentioning killing an app in task manager.

    Censorship is a slippery slope.

  • app

    Censorship doesn’t violate the 1st Amendment, unless it’s the government that is doing the censoring. Private individuals and companies have the right to censor anything they want, and in some cases are even required to censor some types of user generated content.

  • Anonymous

    Not at all. Twitter sets up an internal filter that separates tweets that contain the word “rape” (if that is too much volume, you make the filter set to “rape” and includes a twitter handle) and then have a staff that checks the tweets for context. People making rape threats get blocked. Simple, doesn’t affect people’s actual conversations and cuts down on something that is sadly becoming a real problem.

    Now that’s just off the top of my head. People are declaring that there is nothing that Twitter can do and I’m just saying that they are wrong. Twitter can do plenty and you know what is even more slippery slope that censorship? Apathy

  • Rebecca Pahle

    Whew! :)

    Honest mistake!