Gender-based Violence, Rights
Comments 3

Violence against Women Online: Threatening Tweets toward Women

In response to a week of user complaints, head of Twitter UK, Tony Wang, apologized via his personal Twitter account to women who had received threats on Twitter:

According to BBC, individuals have been arrested “in relation to rape threats against Labour MP Stella Creasy and feminist campaigner Caroline Criado-Perez.” BBC also reports that similar threats were Tweeted to Hadley Freeman from The Guardian, Grace Dent from The Independent and Catherine Mayer from Time Magazine. Threats against Caroline Criado-Perez have been connected to her involvement with a campaign to add Jane Austen to the new  £10 note, while threats against MP Stella Creasy have continued over the weekend, and even escalated. Today, the Guardian reported that two more women, journalists India Knight and Laurie Penny, have also received bomb threats.

In light of the complaints, including a petition signed by over 129,000 users, Twitter has announced the addition of staff to manage abuse reports, updated its harassment policy, and promised that the “report abuse button” will be available on Twitter for Android and Twitter.com, in addition to the iOS Twitter app. Previously, the ability to report abuse was not directly linked to each tweet.

Ms. Criado-Perez is glad that action is being taken, but argues that it is a week late, and Twitter’s response does not adequately address the issue. “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.” 

Ms. Mayer of Time Magazine is still awaiting a personal apology from Twitter, and directed remarks at Tony Wang: “If he (Mr. Wang) would like to make an apology to me, he can direct message me if he doesn’t want to do it publicly.” She also added that:

We’re not being targeted because we’re activists, we’re being targeted because we’re female.

Social media platforms need to become more sensitive and responsive to issues related to violence against women. These cases uphold a sad reality that  violence against women is still prevalent everywhere in the world, and that violence and abuse are “taking a new form” online, as noted by Ms. Creasy. 

We know how easy it is to make threats, use offensive language, and post offensive photos or videos online. Internet spaces can also at times blur the line between fantasy and reality, and lower the threshold for threatening behavior. When there is no accountability for threats made online, individuals see no reason to refrain from threats, abuse and use of offensive and degrading language. While some claims are unfounded, many are real and can have severe psychological effects on the victims.

Twitter has come to the table late on developing appropriate reporting tools, and has only done so in response to damaging threats that could have been prevented. Although the world is still learning the most efficient ways to adapt itself to online threats, we have known for a very long time that this is a major issue. Twitter’s reporting system was inadequate, and the repercussions are now surfacing. In light of the recent events, other social media platforms should take heed that there may be a push by users for more adequate abuse reporting mechanisms, and develop these as preventative measures instead of waiting for the other shoe to drop. 

Women are not the only group being targeted with hateful messages in online spaces. Racist, homophobic, and anti-Semitic remarks are constant across various social media platforms. With the increasing use of social media, regulators need to come up with more strategic approaches for prevention. With the Internet sometimes keeping us disconnected from the “real world” we need to start taking real approaches to change this mentality.

What content do you think should be acceptable to post or comment about online? What some individuals view as harassment, others do not. Should all posts be monitored, and should social media sites be responsible for ensuring that abuse does not occur? How can social media sites appropriately track their users in cases of abuse? Was Twitter’s response to these recent threats appropriate? Share your thoughts in the comment section!

You can also join the 129,000 plus people who have signed the petition to Add a Report Abuse Button to Twitter!

Featured image: Sallyeva/Dreamstime.com

This entry was posted in: Gender-based Violence, Rights

by

Liz earned a Master’s of Public Health degree from New York University in 2012, during which she researched harm reduction measures for intravenous drug users, and worked for a diabetes prevention research study in East Harlem. Liz traveled to Mexico and South Africa with NYU to understand the approaches taken toward improving community health in those countries. Liz has consistently been invested in the health of marginalized populations and improving access to health care for those living in poverty. As a way to entrench herself in one of the world’s most impoverished cities, Liz volunteered at the Missionaries of Charity in Calcutta, India. Liz spent 2013 in South Korea teaching English and investigating gender issues there. She is eager to share what she has learned about health and poverty and how those issues relate to gender equity. Liz lives in Brooklyn, New York. Be inspired to take action toward global gender equity! Follow Liz on Twitter @LizAFort

3 Comments

  1. Sad, jealous, little people trying to intimidate. Worlds full of them and they never had a voice until the age of media as they surely never have the guts to go up to someone’s face and say what they thought. It’s unfortunate for the women targeted over the last couple of weeks but I hope they don’t worry too much, the truly deranged usually have another cause which is more centered around themselves and not the good act of someone trying to do something for the women in the UK. So I can’t imagine they will be threatened anywhere else other than online. At least the government has reacted in a timely manner for once and made some arrests all though we’ll be stuck with this problem for a while.

    • Thanks for the comment! I edited the language of your comment slightly to adhere to the Girls’ Globe Comment Guidelines. You can check out the guidelines here: https://girlsglobe.org/about/comment-guidelines/ I hope I kept the ideas of your comment intact! I completely agree that the internet has given a voice to so many people that wouldn’t have any without it. We know that this can have both positive and negative effects. Because there are so many different voices and much controversial dialogue online, you are right when you say it may take a while to effectively resolve the problem of online abuse. Unfortunately, some threats made online are acted upon, and that’s one of the reasons why it is so important to adequately address the issues and work toward changing abuse policies and related legislation.

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