A freelance journalist in the UK who campaigned to have women included on British banknotes has criticized Twitter for not making it easier to report abuse, after she was subjected to a barrage of violent comments, including rape threats. Caroline Criado-Perez said Twitter’s existing method for handling such abuse — an online form — was not enough, and her supporters have started a petition aimed at getting the service to add a “report abuse” button on every tweet, and are also organizing a Twitter boycott.
Criado-Perez told the BBC and other outlets that she received about 50 abusive tweets an hour for 12 hours following the announcement that author Jane Austen would be appearing on British notes, and that she appeared to have “stumbled into a nest of men who co-ordinate attacks on women.” She said she reported the abuse to police and also tried to contact Mark Luckie, who works for Twitter’s journalism and news unit, but said that Luckie did not respond, and then locked his account to make his tweets private.
The existing system is inadequate, critics say
In a comment to the Independent newspaper, Criado-Perez said: “There has been a deafening silence from Twitter. The accounts of the men who said those things are still active. There needs to be a massive culture shift at Twitter.” The freelance writer and co-founder of The Women’s Room said that the reaction to her complaint from Twitter’s spokesman in the UK, Tony Wang — who told her to report the abuse using the online form — wasn’t helpful, since each attack would have to be reported individually.
When you are drowning in rape threats, when they are coming in every second, it's just not practical to report in this way.
— Caroline CriadoPerez (@CCriadoPerez) July 27, 2013
Criado-Perez’s complaints have gotten support from some prominent Twitter users in Britain, including MP Stella Creasy — who said she was “furious” at Twitter’s lack of response, and then wrote a piece for The Guardian in which said that Twitter’s inadequate action over such threats “is itself an abuse.” Criado-Perez also got support from fellow journalist Caitlin Moran, who began asking her followers to support a boycott of Twitter to draw attention to the issue.
Another supporter started a petition at Change.org asking Twitter to add a “report abuse” button, and as of Saturday afternoon ET the petition had 16,000 signatures. The petition says that abuse on Twitter is too common and frequently goes ignored, and that Twitter needs to recognize that “its current reporting system is below required standards,” and that its terms and conditions should be reviewed as they apply to abusive behavior.
Who knows if a Report Abuse button IS the answer. But the QUESTION is, "What is Twitter going to do about sexist, racism, homophobic abuse"?
— Caitlin Moran (@caitlinmoran) July 27, 2013
Twitter is adding abuse reporting buttons
In response to the incident, a Twitter spokesman said in an emailed statement that the network’s iPhone app has the kind of “report abuse” button the petition is calling for, and that this feature is being rolled out soon across the rest of the company’s apps.
“We encourage users to report an account for violation of the Twitter rules by using one of our report forms. 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.”
In a somewhat ironic twist, Mark Luckie — who works for Twitter’s journalism and news unit — said he locked his account and made it private because he received abusive tweets about the Criado-Perez case (Kathy Gill, a digital-media teacher at the University of Washington, has Storified some of the back-and-forth over the case here, including Luckie’s explanation).
The comments I received turned abusive and I temporarily protected my account.
— Mark S. Luckie (@marksluckie) July 27, 2013
The British case is just the latest example of the clash between laws and ethical standards as they relate to abusive or “hate” speech and Twitter’s stated commitment to be the “free-speech wing of the free-speech party.” In one recent incident in France, the company was criticized for not taking action against users who posted homophobic and anti-Semitic comments — both of which are against the law in France — and was eventually sued, and had to turn over some of the data about users who were involved.
Post and thumbnail images courtesy of Shutterstock / Aaron Amot