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Should Women Boycott Twitter?

If we can’t rely on Twitter to protect us, is there an argument for removing our contribution?

Leslie Jones, comedian and star of the latest Ghostbusters movie has become the latest in a long line of high profile women to leave Twitter. Jones departed on 19th July with “tears and a very sad goodbye” citing her sadness at having to endure a campaign of appalling racist and sexist abuse. Alongside death and rape threats, Jones was subject to pejorative comments about her appearance, racists comments likening her to a gorilla and as well as graphic, sexually violent commentary.

Leslie Jones Twitter abuse

And this is nothing new. Other women in the public eye subject to abuse on Twitter include Sue Perkins (for having the temerity to have been suggested as a possible replacement for Jeremy Clarkson on Top Gear). Laura Bates, for founding Everyday Sexism, (ironically, an online blog that encouraged women to document acts of sexism) experienced rape and death threats.

Laura Bates Everyday Sexism Twitter Abuse

Caroline Criado-Perez, who successfully campaigned for a woman to appear on a Bank of England note received such severe abuse that the perpetrators (one of whom was in fact female) were sentenced to jail for their actions.

Caroline Criado-Perez, Bank of England Twitter Abuse

Classicist Mary Beard was on the receiving end of a torrent of sexually oriented derogatory comments after she appeared on BBC1’s Question Time, as well as rape and bomb threats.

Mary Beard Twitter Abuse BBC 1 Question Time

In May this year, Labour MP Jess Phillips suffered over 600 rape threats in one evening.

Jess Phillips MP Twitter Abuse

The list goes on.

But it’s not just high profile people that have to endure misogyny online, specifically on Twitter. Last week, I tweeted using the trending hashtag #IAmFeminist and, within seconds, derogatory messages started to appear in my timeline.

It would appear that ‘haters’ were joining in with the hashtag and using it to express pejorative views, as well as using it to follow, stalk and abuse those who were engaging with it in a positive way.

#iamfeminist trolls twitter abuse

Users who were jumping immediately onto the hashtag included one who responded to me calling me a ‘Naxi’ (misspelled ‘Nazi’).

feminism twitter trolls

There was also this charming chap, a self-styled ‘comms expert’ who believes feminists are suffering from ‘mental illness’ and therefore men must pay for it:

Feminist Trolls Twitter

At the very thin end of the wedge was somebody who I know in ‘real life’ who took umbrage to the fact that I had stated that my understanding of the definition of feminism as equality.  Apparently this meant that I was not in favour of men’s rights and thus it was OK for me to be subject to a number of Tweets telling me that my opinion was wrong:

This particular user would not let it go, and according to Wikipedia’s definition, this is trolling.

A troll: is a person who sows discord on the Internet by starting arguments or upsetting people, by posting inflammatory,[1]extraneous, or off-topic messages in an online community (such as a newsgroup, forum, chat room, or blog) with the deliberate intent of provoking readers into an emotional response[2] or of otherwise disrupting normal on-topic discussion,[3] often for their own amusement.

Finally, apparently my call for recognition that feminism simply means equality elicited this apparently exasperated response.

Twitter abuse trolls feminism

No. It is not over.

I immediately blocked the most offensive users and reported them to Twitter. At the time of writing I have received no response and the profiles all still there, alive and kicking in the Twitterverse.

This includes our friend @sneakyblackhat (whose profile purports “If it exists, there’s porn of it, alongside a Google search for Women pay gap with a ‘no results’ screen on Google). This particular user was one of Jones’s abusers. And yet he is still at large.

The Twitter policy on reported users is, it would appear, woefully inadequate.

Lindy West, who has received numerous rape and threats online talks about her experiences thus:

I report abusive tweets sometimes hundreds of times per week, and I do it because I’m told it is my only recourse. It’s tedious, ineffectual paperwork, and it does little to change the toxic, misogynist culture that pervades the network.

West also talks, in a blog on Daily Dot about one man who described a barrage of graphic anti-choice propaganda—bloody, dismembered foetuses—that he received after writing a piece about his wife’s traumatic lost pregnancy. He too was told it was “not violating the Twitter rules”.

And it would appear that the problem IS with the platform itself. A 2015 study of abusive social media mentions showed that 88% of them occur on Twitter.

virtual location of discriminatory posts

So what is Twitter doing about this?

As previous Chief Exec Dick Costolo admitted in his own words in an internal memo leaked last year, Twitter “sucks at dealing with abuse and trolls on the platform and we’ve sucked at it for years”. Twitter itself admits to failing its users.

In April 2015, Twitter appeared to directly address this, with its lawyer Vijaya Gadde posting this blog.

“In addition to improving users’ ability to control their own Twitter experiences, in recent months we have invested heavily in tools and enforcement solutions that enable us to better detect, act on and limit the reach of abusive content. We have also tripled the size of the team whose job is to protect users, which has allowed us to respond to five times the user complaints while reducing the turnaround time to a fraction of what it was not long ago.”

And yet, despite this, the users are still there and the exodus of the abused continues.

As numbers of those leaving rise every day, it begs the question: why should we continue to endorse Twitter it if it does not represent a safe space for women to air their views?

Encountering abuse on twitter

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One comment

  1. For me it’s not twitter that’s at fault – it’s the excuse for human beings that think it’s acceptable to say that regardless of how they say it. And what annoys me even more is that they probably have friends and family who don’t realise what idiots they are because they wouldn’t dare say these things without the anonymity.

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