A deafening silence from Twitter

The Independent reports that Twitter is facing a major backlash for not responding to abuse. I am pleased to hear that – Twitter has been crappy about dealing with one kind of abuse I get there, and it’s so crappy about offering ways to deal with other kinds that I didn’t even try.

A host of MPs and other leading public figures have threatened a boycott after a feminist campaigner highlighted numerous threats of rape and other violent acts being sent to her on Twitter. Caroline Criado-Perez, who finally won her fight to have prominent women represented on Britain’s bank notes this week, claimed that her complaints to the site have been ignored.

A petition was soon set up demanding more robust action from the site and attracted more than 6,000 signatures within three hours. That figure had passed the 11,000 mark this afternoon.

So. Apparently quite a few people are fed up with this kind of thing. Well, good.

Criado-Perez said that

once the decision was announced by new Governor of the Bank of England Mark Carney, the abuse escalated and began to attract the attention of fellow Twitter users. She reported it to the police and claims that she  tried to alert Twitter’s manager of journalism & news Mark Luckie. But  his response appeared to be to simply set his account to private, making his updates invisible to most users. Ms Criado-Perez said she is still awaiting a substantive response.

She added: “The internet makes it very easy to make this sort of threat, and sites that don’t make it easy to report abuse like this make men like those who have been threatening me feel like there will be no comeback. I told some of them they would not get away with it and they just laughed; at the moment, they are right.

“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.”

Bring on the culture shift.


  1. says

    This is why I am okay with doxxing. These aren’t just people being trolls. They’re making criminal threats, and doing so because they know they can hide behind cowardly online anonymity and get away with it. Their identities should be made known to their families, their communities, and their employers, so those people know what kind of person is in their midst and they can take action accordingly. Hey, it’s free speech.

  2. grumpyoldfart says

    What a joke, expecting the operators to follow-up on complaints. It’s the easiest money they’ve ever earned and there’s no way they are actually going to work for it.

  3. says

    Holy crap, this flareup of misogyny was because of wanting to put some women’s faces on currency? There’s really nothing too uncontroversial and mundane to piss off the haters, isn’t there.

    I agree that twitter needs an easier way to report threats of violence, but I agree with the many trans people and women of color on twitter who have pointed out that an “abuse” button that doesn’t have a very narrow working definition of “abuse” will be used by e.g. TERFs to kick their critics off twitter, in effect becoming more marginalizing than empowering. Many of them already get silenced by abuse of the spam reporting button. Unlike Youtube, twitter is largely real-time, so having your tweets restored after a day or two, when it’s disappeared from everyone’s feed, protects the abusers of the reporting system.

    And the suggestion to put twitter behind a paywall? Holy fuck, but was that ever classist. :-/

    This is why I am okay with doxxing.

    and this, in return, is why the community of minority women on twitter has been reacting very negatively to many of the suggestions made by white cis feminists on how to make twitter safer: because they experience many of these actions as being thrown under the bus, since they’re expressed in these wide-sweeping terms rather than e.g. as “doxxing when criminal acts have been committed” (though I very much hope that’s what you meant)

  4. says

    Thank you Jadehawk, those are my concerns to. I know a number of trans women whose accoun ts would have been deleted for abuse because they stood up to to trans-misogynists online.

    To often the cure for abuse just makes it worse.

  5. says

    Well what does that mean? Either Twitter makes it easier to report abuse, or it doesn’t.

    In other words I don’t get it. I don’t get why trans people are any more or less likely to get kicked off twitter by fake reporting of abuse than anyone else.

  6. Happiestsadist, opener of the Crack of Doom says

    Well, it’s a very common strategy of anti-trans bigots in places where abuse reporting systems exist.

  7. Happiestsadist, opener of the Crack of Doom says

    True. On the other hand, you can’t really ignore that it will be used against women.

  8. says

    I don’t get why trans people are any more or less likely to get kicked off twitter by fake reporting of abuse than anyone else.

    because they’re already more commonly victim to this kind of silencing so there’s no reason to think it won’g be the case again; because they’re generally suffering from more marginalization (both in terms of not having comparably (many) prominent voices in the first place, and in terms of having many more people against them willing to try to shut them up) than anyone else, especially when they sit at the intersection of several axes of oppression.

    Basically, the same reason atheist women are more likely to be silenced than atheist men are.

    Well what does that mean? Either Twitter makes it easier to report abuse, or it doesn’t.

    yeah no. that’s like saying “either there is a harassment policy or there isn’t” when people want to talk about shittastic implementation (e.g. that year TAM had the “secret police” anti-harassment thing going).
    “Easier” has to mean “easier to report people threatening violence, but not easier to just get critics banned”, because then it just backfires and you end up with fewer voices instead of more. Most people I’ve heard taking about this agree that reporting needs to be streamlined, but they’re worried that “abuse” will be too loosely defined

  9. says

    Well, it’s a very common strategy of anti-trans bigots in places where abuse reporting systems exist.

    But not of anti-woman or anti-feminist bigots?

    in addition to anti-woman/anti-feminist bigots.

  10. latsot says

    The main problem with reporting abuse on Twitter is currently that the categories of abuse accepted are ridiculously narrow, not that they’re too broad. I’ve had cause to report a few people for fairly relentless abuse. Not threats, but totally unwarranted attacks and untrue accusations, sometimes made on other people’s feeds. You’d imagine that if someone falsely told your friends and prominent members of the community you hang out in that you’re a rapist, it would be considered abuse. But Twitter doesn’t think so.

    I couldn’t just tell Twitter that someone was making false accusations about me. I had to narrow the complaint down to a category that wasn’t quite true and didn’t capture what was so bad about the situation. The only possible reason for the uselessness of this protocol is that Twitter wants to safely ignore reports of abuse. They want to maintain the myth that they’re just a communications infrastructure and not responsible for what people do with that infrastructure. But that is bullshit. Twitter provides a medium for people to safely, anonymously and systematically abuse people without consequence and they have a moral responsibility to protect their users.

    A Report Abuse button could and certainly would itself be abused and the protocol would have to be very clear. There would have to be consequences for false reporting. There would have to be a transparent decision process, with proper provenance and completely clear feedback. Every report of abuse would need to have an official response, regardless of whether any action was taken. There would need to be a way to contact the people involved in the decision in case you wanted to object to it. There would have to be a well-documented and simple procedure for this, a way to escalate complaints and so on. And it would still be far from perfect, no matter how well-designed the procedures were.

    And it would be hard. It would be expensive. I have a little sympathy with Twitter in their view that they shouldn’t be held responsible for other people’s bad behaviour. But Twitter has become something more than a communications infrastructure and I think they should accept some responsibility as a consequence of their success. I don’t think there’s a perfect solution, but we could certainly have a better solution and I’m all for that. It’s not as though they have to solve every problem right away. Incremental improvements are improvements.

  11. Bjarte Foshaug says

    We already know the status quo sucks so what’s worst:

    – Keeping things the way they are and accepting a 100 % chance that things are going to suck?
    – Changing the status quo and at least having a greater than zero chance of improving some things, possibly at the cost of creating some new problems that have to be solved?

  12. Pen says

    In Britain the posting of racist abuse on Twitter has led to the posters enjoying a little conversation with the police. It would be too easy to make jokes about that, along the lines of the blind leading the blind, so I won’t bother. But the suspected inadequacy of the police to perform this task is about the only problem I have with it. So, if people can get called in by the law for racist abuse, why not rape threats? It’s getting far too generalised and I firmly believe that some women back out of public and/or political life because of it. It needs to stop. I’ve known one or two myself, especially in local politics where the woman has reason to believe the threats are coming from people she actually encounters in real life.

  13. Lee deLay says

    I’ve signed, though I do agree wi the concerns over anti-trans abuse of such a butting. Ther are so many issues trans people face that while I worry about people like me who are trans and an activist, I think that we can do mor good with an ability to report a users effectively. The solution isn’t a simple ‘report to block’ function it’s as others have said – a clear policy, that is enforced and a method of reporting transgressions that is clear and simple to do. Some change might get the ball rolling in a way to make things better, clearly sticking with the status quo isn’t going to be effective.

  14. says

    That’s what we’re talking about, isn’t it? It’s what I’m talking about – the ability to report abuse so that people at Twitter will then look at the reported account and act accordingly. I don’t see how that would be any more of a problem for trans people than it would for anyone else. Trans people don’t get to abuse others any more than anyone else does, and if they don’t abuse, then Twitter people who look at their accounts will see that they don’t.

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