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 Change.org 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.