Twitter – You Can’t Keep a Bad Twit Down, or Can You?

Twitter - You Can't Keep a Bad Twit Down, or Can You?
The Twitter saga rages on in the UK, today, as further evidence of the dissemination of misogynistic abuse throughout the social networking platform, springs to life. Reports of rape and death threats are becoming an escalating problem, with many outside parties keenly observing Twitter boss’ handling of the situation. In a public display of admonishment, general manager of Twitter UK, Tony Wang, addressed the unsavory nature of recent remarks, issued by an unfortunate, online minority:

“I personally apologize to the women who have experienced abuse on Twitter and for what they have gone through… the abuse they’ve received is simply not acceptable. It’s not acceptable in the real world, and it’s not acceptable on Twitter”

Mr. Wang accounted proposals, which would seek to quickly and effectively suppress abusive communications. The first port of call involves the coding and implementation of a “report abuse” button, available in web browsers and may become part of a desktop application. The news arrives after significant public controversy, fuelling the emergence of petition on, pleading for change. The petitions’ blurb highlights current fallibilities in the protocol for reporting abuse, arguing “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.”

The organizers went on to question Twitter’s commitment to tackling the problem, “It is time Twitter took a zero tolerance policy on abuse, and learns to tell the difference between abuse and defense. Women standing up to abuse should not fear having their accounts cancelled because Twitter fail to see the issue at hand.” Thus far, the petition has garnered sizable attention, acquiring over 125,000 supporters.

The controversial debate, over Twitter’s regulation of user’s comments, was initially stirred over attacks directed towards several high-profile individuals, including U.K. Labour minister for Walthamstow, Stella Creasy, and a freelance journalist and feminist campaigner, Caroline Criado-Perez. Criado-Perez was instrumental in negotiating Jane Austin’s appearance on British bank notes, to be introduced in 2017, based upon the grounds of feminism. This resulted in the vitriolic machinations of a 21-year-old man, who has now been arrested for issuing death and rape threats. However, when Stella Creasy, who was quick to jump to Criado-Perez’s defense, offered up her unconditional support, she encountered a similar barrage of sinister threats.

When interviewed on BBC Radio 4, Ms. Creasy had this to say on the matter, “This is not about Twitter, this is about hatred of women and hatred of women who speak up.” Contradicting her initial message, she proceeded “Twitter needs to be explicit that sexual violence and sexual aggression will not be tolerated as part of their user terms and conditions.”

In an entirely separate episode, additional threats were made to a number of eminent, female journalists, who had received tweets from individuals threatening to bomb their homes and “destroy everything”. The women concerned, include columnists at the Guardian (Haley Freeman) Independent (Grace Dent) and a Time Magazine editor (Catherine Mayer), as well as several other women.

Following announcement of the planned shakeup in Twitter’s abuse reporting toolset, and its attendant policies, Criado-Perez’s response was muted:

“The current process is lengthy, complicated and impossible to use if you’re under sustained attack like I have been… Right now, all the emphasis is on the victim, often under intense pressure, to report rather than for Twitter to track down the perpetrator and stop them.”

Although Criado-Perez’s emotional stance is entirely understandable, it could be said, requesting Twitter “track down the perpetrators” of such crimes is logistically unfeasible, especially considering the sheer volume of communications transmitted across Twitter networks, on a daily basis. Asking victims to inform Twitter of abuses is certainly not unreasonable, and would be comparable to a victim of a crime reporting the incident to the police. What’s more, with the soon-to-be “report abuse” button coming into effect, the procedure should be relatively straightforward.

Of course, Twitter needs to take a firm, no-tolerance approach to any form of credible threat or abuse, and it is their moral obligation to protect the well-being of all its users. But a calm and considered approach needs to be adopted to ensure we get it right. If we go down the road of Twitter monitoring our communications (à la Prism), one fears that larger repercussions centering around privacy and freedom of speech could materialize.

With respect to Twitter’s future duties, the group plan to increase staffing levels, to assist in handling allegations of abuse, and are already working with UK Safer Internet Centre. Mr. Wang, in the conclusion of his tweet, had this to say “There is more we can and will be doing to protect our users against abuse. That is our commitment.”

Written By: James Fenner