Is Twitter Doing Enough to Curb Rape Threats Online?

4 years ago

It is too easy to threaten someone on Twitter. Too easy to cut them down, to mock them, to ridicule. With 140 characters, you can make a woman so uncomfortable that she doesn't feel safe online. The only thing it's difficult to do, it seems, is report these abuses. But an uproar over behaviour on the site may change that.

Daily Dot writes,

After feminist campaigner Caroline Criado-Perez received 50 rape threats in an hour, people began to sit up and take notice: The threats were plain to see, and Twitter didn’t seem to be doing anything about it.

That is, perhaps, the most disturbing part of this, similar to the rape and murder of Kitty Genovese that stunned the world in 1964 and launched the term "bystander effect;" these threats on Twitter are being done in full view of everyone with access to a computer.  These aren't covertly sent messages to someone's inbox, words said face-to-face, or phone calls made to a single individual.  They are online, in plain sight, for everyone to see.  Rationally, it should be easier to stop these abuses than the ones that take place in private or leave no permanent record.

Image: Annette Shaff /

Over 100,000 people have signed a petition to have a simple "report abuse" button added prominently to Twitter pages so people experiencing harassment do not need to search for a way to get the abuse to stop.  There has also been a call for a Twitter boycott on August 4th, though others have criticized the idea of using silence to highlight the way women are being silenced.

On the other side is the argument that making it too easy to report abuse will have people abuse the system, simply clicking a button any time they're upset with someone else's words.  Twitter needs to look no further than enormous social media undertakings such as Blogger, owned and operated by Google.  Every blogspot blog has a report abuse button at the top of the screen (currently under the menu for "more" though it used to be more clearly displayed).  Perhaps Google can speak to whether making it easy for people to report abuse makes it happen needlessly or whether it is a good site practice when it comes to social media.

[Disclosure: BlogHer has a report abuse button labeled "flag" for every comment.]

For me, as a Twitter user, it comes down to feeling as if a site is doing enough to protect its users while still remaining cognizant of the fact that people have free will and their abuse of a site is not always reflective of the site itself.  Abusive tweets may still occur whether there is a report abuse button or not.  But it goes a long way -- for this user -- to at least see that Twitter takes that abuse seriously and does everything within its power to make the community safe for its members.

What are your thoughts on a report abuse button?  Would you participate in the August 4th boycott of Twitter?

Melissa writes Stirrup Queens and Lost and Found. Her novel about blogging is Life from Scratch.

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