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Twitter UK Chief Apologizes to Female Victims of Online Abuse

Twitter UK Chief Apologizes to Female Victims of Online Abuse

The general manager of Twitter UK, Tony Wang, sent a series of tweets Saturday, apologizing to women who have experienced abuse on its site.

The social media company also posted an update to its blog Saturday morning, outlining changes it plans to make to its policies.

The developments come after UK lawmaker Stella Creasy and feminist campaigner Caroline Criado-Perez were the targets of rape threats on Twitter, sparking a very public backlash against the social media company. Arrests were later made in connection with that investigation.

Several female journalists also received bomb threats on Twitter, including Guardian columnist Hadley Freeman, Independent columnist Grace Dent, Emma Barnett of The Daily Telegraph and Europe editor of Time magazine Catherine Mayer.

The threats triggered a petition calling for Twitter to modify its policies and make it easier to report abuse, and some called for boycotts.  Creasy took it a step further though, calling the threats a “hate crime.”

From the BBC:

[Journalist Caitlin] Moran has called for a 24-hour Twitter boycott on 4 August to try to get Twitter to come up with an “anti-troll policy”.

Labour MP Ms Creasy said: “This is not a technology crime – this is a hate crime. If they were doing it on the street, the police would act.”

She told the BBC she had been chasing Twitter for the past 24 hours but they had not yet responded to her.

“I am absolutely furious with Twitter that they are not engaging in this at all,” she said.

I have to say, as someone who has been the target of more extreme abuse and threats on Twitter, I do agree to some extent that it should be easier – perhaps more efficient – to report more serious incidents on Twitter.  More specifically, and based on personal experience, I think Twitter could be more responsive to serious threats and longstanding patterns of abuse that are committed by habitual offenders.  Twitter sometimes doesn’t respond at all, and if it does, it simply recommends the matter be referred to law enforcement.  I’m not sure about the solution, though.

Serious incidents are typically reported by victims to law enforcement authorities, but those authorities are often woefully ill equipped to deal with such issues.  (I had one officer admit to me once, “I have no idea what Twitter is, how Twitter works, I’ve never even been on there”).  So I don’t think it hurts for Twitter to at least review its policies and try to do more to help targets of serious abuse to work with the proper resources to address the most serious of offenses on its network.  And to be clear, we’re talking about the incidents more serious than “block and move on.”

However, I think that referring to such things as a “hate crime” sets a very dangerous precedent.  I don’t particularly view this as an issue limited only to women – men are also just as much victims of serious threats and repeated harassment.  I simply don’t make the distinction or place more value on women over men when it comes to online abuse.  And we’re talking about speech, not an action.

This is a slippery slope.  Where does Twitter draw the line between actionable abuse and free speech? And do we really want them spending all their time going through “report abuse” reports?  (I’ll add that the “report abuse” function has the potential to be abused itself, just as the spamblock feature has been).

Sometimes we have to tolerate speech we don’t like.  As many of us often say, the answer is more speech, not less.

But there are some areas that I believe aren’t so grey – direct threats of rape, planting bombs and death are clearly things that shouldn’t be tolerated, and Twitter’s policies do already cover this.  I think the issue is one that is probably more a matter of how law enforcement, not just Twitter, is equipped to address.  And perhaps the policies that Twitter reconsiders could also include providing further guidance on differentiating up front what constitutes something that should be handled by law enforcement authorities.

It’s a delicate issue, when you’re dealing with online speech.  As with many other things in the age of new media, we as a society are still working out proper balance between safety and protecting a civil liberty.  And there can be unintended consequences.


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Would these people be the same people who confuse movies with reality? How in the world can twitter be abusive? I can understand threats but that is already a crime so there’s nothing that needs to be done about it.

I think this is a perverted growth of the 15-minutes-of-fame game. They are lucky I don’t own the company — I’d tell them to back off or expect all their “tweets” to start singing on a tape loop.

Beam me up, Scotty. There’s no intelligent life here.

Oh geeze. AS opposed to a mailed letter, or a personal visit, one CAN walk away from twitter or other social media sites. One CAN ignore it for a while. Nothing guarantees that the offender will be able to “abuse” their intended victim with an over-the-network message.

And to expect a company to act like the cops is getting rather .. well, acting like a baby. Demanding that everyone take your offensive material away from you to protect you from the world.

Bad people are everywhere. Bad people will find ways to offend no matter what policies a company enacts. Policies are not laws. If you don’t like what someone over Twitter is saying to you, block them.

If your self-esteem is dependent upon a good rah-rah from your Social Media interactions, then you probably need more psychological help than those you proclaim are offending you.

I can’t count the number of times I have been subjected to threats of murder, rape, torture and stalking for stating my political opinions & views online.

Do I need a Nanny to make the bullies behave? No.

None have attempted to follow through with these threats and if they ever try, they will find a woman trained, practiced & empowered with a firearm to protect herself from attackers.

99.8% of those who threaten are coward keyboard jockeys with no intention of follow through.

The remaining 0.2% hate everyone and will eventually live in prison or wind up like Trayvon did.

    Archer in reply to VotingFemale. | August 5, 2013 at 1:44 pm

    Any time you have a forum that allows people to rant more-or-less anonymously, you’ll get a few whackos who (ab)use the privelege to say something they wouldn’t say in person or on-the-record.

    ANY time.

    Sometimes it’s a good thing. Ever taken an online seminar or class? People join the discussions who would normally sit in the back and say nothing, which in a lot of ways makes for a much richer experience.

    Sometimes it’s not so good. It’s easy to be the “tough” guy when you’re sitting in front of a computer and nobody knows who or where you are, so many online discussions/debates devolve into hurled insults and threats. Realistically, most of it is just hot air – an offended person 3,000 miles away is unlikely to be able to harm you.

    That said, direct threats are not conducive to any “discussion,” and even if the “Keyboard Commando” can’t make good on a threat, one of their “followers” might. If Twitter’s Terms of Use policy doesn’t allow threats, they should have a working mechanism to enforce that. If they won’t uphold their own rules, why have the rules to begin with?

You can rape someone via Twitter?

I had no idea that twits were so advanced.

I wish I had a Tony Wang.

Sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never hurt me. LOL!!

BannedbytheGuardian | August 4, 2013 at 8:19 am

This is the sort of thing I go to the Daily Mail especially for. Gossip & outrage.

Love it .

Brit Gals get off Twitter – no one cares what you have to say or who is saying what to you.

Milf – to that lady. Lmfao.

It is very difficult to understand where the lines are now. Apparently it is OK for Facebook to allow pages calling for the murder of Emmanuel Goldstein…. oops, I mean George Zimmerman, but I doubt they would countenance such a page with Barrack Obama’s name on it.

Here we have proposed legislation to protect women that apparently would not be needed were it merely men being threatened. Quite confusing and deliberately divisive to say the least.

    gxm17 in reply to Voluble. | August 5, 2013 at 4:02 pm

    I think everyone should be protected. IMO, the death threats against George Zimmerman (and his family) should not be tolerated and I would be happy to see arrests made in that regard. (As a matter of fact, I would like a public explanation from President Obama as to why there have been no arrests.)

    Abusive language and physical threats lower the level of public discourse and are destructive to the exchange of ideas and civil behavior. What the hell has happened that anyone thinks it’s okay to threaten the lives of the Zimmerman family or threaten to rape a woman for something as innocuous as campaigning to have Jane Austen’s image placed on currency? I am stunned and sickened at the depth of ugly in some people’s souls.

[…] there’s also reason to be concerned about how the new Twitter policy will be […]