Apologies and threats collide in midair

Tony Wang of Twitter UK issued an apology for the harassment yesterday.

Twitter’s UK boss Tony Wang and senior director Del Harvey have apologized profusely to Caroline Criado-Perez, Stella Creasey and the leagues of other women who have received tweets that threaten death or rape in a response to their activism — including a handful of female journalists who have received bomb threats.


And now, the changes: Wang says that an in-tweet “report abuse” button was in the latest version of Twitter for Apple smartphones, and from next month on it will be available on Twitter.com and Android phones — in other words, users don’t have to use the “Help” page to report abuse. The Twitter Rules page has also been updated to reflect their no-abuse policy.

And, one hopes, the rules themselves have also been updated to reflect their no-abuse policy, so that people who report genuine abuse will no longer get messages saying this here abuse doesn’t violate Twitter rules so you’re just going to have to suck it up.

Anyway, hours after the apologies, Mary Beard received a bomb threat.

The classicist and TV presenter Mary Beard has been sent a bomb threat on Twitter hours after the UK boss of the social networking site apologised to women who have experienced abuse.

Prof Beard, who has faced abuse on Twitter previously, told the BBC she had reported the new message to police.

It used similar wording to a tweet sent earlier to a number of women, some of whom have also received rape threats.

That’s not good.

Prof Beard told BBC Radio 5 live: “I think it is scary and it has got to stop.

“To be honest I didn’t actually intellectually feel I was in danger but I thought I was being harassed and I thought I was being harassed in a particularly unpleasant way.”

Which is what the people who send such tweets want the recipients to feel. They want us to feel like the objects of hostile, potentially violent attention and rage.



  1. says

    Angus Johnston wrote about how the Report Tweet button looks on the iPhone, and is cautiously optimistic about the reporting procedure:

    There’s no easy fix to the problem of abuse on Twitter, in other words. But there is more that the site can be doing, and today they took a welcome step in that direction.

    This weekend Twitter announced that they were rolling out a “Report Tweet” button on their iPhone platform for broader adoption in the future. Here’s how it works on the phone:

    When you click on the “…” (more) button while viewing a tweet, it brings up a screen with three options: “Copy link to Tweet,” “Mail Tweet,” and (in red) “Report Tweet.” Clicking on that button lets you select whether you want to make a report based on spam, abuse, or a hacked account. If you then click the option for abuse, it lets you choose among impersonation, trademark infringement, harassment, spam, concern about self-harm, or advertising as the issue. Clicking “Harassment” there takes you to Twitter’s abuse reporting webpage, where you’re asked to identify the nature of the harassment, identify the account and tweet, and answer a series of questions about the nature of the activity.

    This is what an abuse reporting process should look like — straightforward to initiate, but specific as to the nature of the accusation, and as a result not suited to casual false reporting. The button is a step in the right direction, and I hope to see it adopted across platforms.

  2. PatrickG says

    Something I don’t understand, and perhaps someone here knows more about how Twitter & police in the UK handle this, but…

    Bomb threats. They’re illegal. Massively, massively illegal. You can be jailed (at least here in the US, or at least in California) for making bomb threats, even if they’re clearly not backed up (i.e. no substantial evidence that the person in question ever procured or assembled materials/devices, etc.).

    Hell, I still vividly remember the bomb threat that got called into my dorm during finals. Police everywhere, despite the fact that no one took it seriously. Hordes of college students huddled into outside lighting because they were required to evacuate. And someone went to jail for 30 days (mainly for being stupid enough to call from their dorm room phone), because calling in a bomb threat in a desperate hope to get an extension on their paper wasn’t excusable.

    Does Twitter not track the IPs from which tweets are sent? Do the police not take such threats as seriously as a person using a telephone? Why aren’t people being arrested for this? Or are they and I’m just missing it?

  3. NorskVind says

    I think it might just not be that simple. Not everyone who tweets threats, bomb or otherwise, are in the same country. On top of this, it is not as simple as TV shows make it look to retrieve that type of information. They can’t just call up an ISP and pleasantly ask for the info of the person who said something retarded on the internet, the ISP will in most cases refuse unless the alternative is worse than giving them the info. People being slimy assholes on the internet are about as solvable as people being slimy assholes in real life; you can’t cure them all but the best you can do is work by example.

  4. Pen says

    #3 two people have been arrested. I can only assume it was not more because they are not as easily traceable as all that.

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