Rape and death threats: every day reality for women on Twitter

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 Amnesty has exposed how Twitter is failing to respect women’s rights

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21st March 2018 by Graham Martin 0 Comments

Death and rape threats and misogynistic attacks are a daily fact of life for women using social media platform Twitter.

The company has been accused of failing to keep women safe from violence and abuse, Amnesty International has said.

As the platform celebrates 12 years since the first tweet, campaigners have released new evidence proving how “toxic” it has become for women.

In a new report, #ToxicTwitter – the result of interviews with women, including politicians, journalists, and regular users across the UK and USA – Amnesty exposes how Twitter is failing to respect women’s rights, and warns the social media company that it must take concrete steps to improve how it deals with violence and abuse against women on the platform.

A number of women in Scotland were interviewed including First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, leader of the Scottish Conservatives Ruth Davidson, and former Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale as well as leading women’s rights activists.

The testimony details the shocking nature of violence and abuse they are receiving on Twitter, including death threats, rape threats and racist, transphobic and homophobic abuse.

Public figures, MSPs, MPs and journalists are often particular targets, but people who aren’t in the public eye also experience abuse, especially if they speak out about issues like sexism and use campaign hashtags.

Twitter has a reporting system in place for users to flag accounts or tweets that are in violation of its safety policies.

However, many women Amnesty spoke to described how they had reported multiple tweets to Twitter with very few receiving a response.

One UK journalist told Amnesty that she reported 100 abusive tweets, of which Twitter removed just two.

Kate Nevens, Amnesty International’s Scotland programme director, said: “Twitter has become a toxic place for women, where appalling abusive language and graphic threats of violence appear unchecked on their platform every day.

“Originally a vital source of news, Twitter has devolved into a place where women receive threats of rape, extreme violence, and even death as well as abuse related to their gender, ethnicity or sexual orientation.

“In the last year, we have seen a wave of online solidarity and activism from women and men around the world – much of it powered by social media platforms such as Twitter but the impact of the #MeToo or #TimesUp movements will be limited if women fear speaking out in the wake of abuse.”

Nevens said abusive trolls are empowered to continue their campaigns of violence and abuse against women online because despite repeated promises, Twitter is failing to do enough to stop them.

In fact, she said, Twitter is silencing the voices of women and is having a damaging impact on their mental health.

Scottish women’s rights activist Talat Yaqoob explained how online abuse impacts her: “The frequency of it, and the toxic nature of online abuse is more than what I experience in real life because people know they can get away with it, it’s behind an anonymous Twitter profile. Offline, you have to be physically in front of me. I don’t think that people understand the consequences of what they say online.”

Twitter said it disagreed with Amnesty’s findings. In a statement, the company said it “cannot delete hatred and prejudice from society”, and explained it had made more than 30 changes to its platform in the past 16 months to improve safety, including increasing the instances of action it takes on abusive tweets.

The company repeated its refusal to share data on how it addresses reports of abuse. It said such data “is not informative” because “reporting tools are often used inappropriately”.