In a leaked internal memo, Twitter CEO Dick Costolo admits the company “sucks” at dealing with harassment and abuse, and took personal responsibility for the pervasive trolling problem.
‘K. So now what?
The memo, obtained by The Verge, was reportedly inspired by a gut punch of an article written by indomitable Lindy West about her own relentless social media abuse and the unlikely connection she made with one of her worst trolls. It obviously struck a chord with Costolo, but what can he actually do to stop online harassment?
Are we looking for Twitter to enforce civility? In fact, if you read what Costolo is actually concerned about, it is that the company is losing users because of the bullies, not some larger concern for human decency. And that’s fine. It’s a start. And Twitter should do what it can to make its community as safe as possible.
Here’s the more important question: Why do people take such glee from hating on women in general and feminists in particular? Why do calls for women’s equality draw such heated attacks?
That isn’t a defense of bullying of any kind, and threats of violence are nonnegotiable, but to focus on social media instead of the vicious intent to silence women who dare to demand equal rights seems silly.
Like targeted advertising, social media abuse and bullying is just something that, as users, we’ve all come to expect and accept as part of the deal. But when it comes to women — feminists in particular — things get ratcheted up rather quickly.
Here’s a little gem recently sent to media critic Anita Sarkeesian, who dared to take on misogyny in gaming. Her work sparked #gamergate, a full online mob of trolls to harass and intimidate her into just shutting up already.
Um, okay sure. You’ve officially been added to my list of abusive accounts and blocked. So congratulations, I guess? pic.twitter.com/gotVsSGYCO
— Feminist Frequency (@femfreq) January 30, 2015
There are countless other horrific examples of women being threatened and harassed for their feminist ideas. Caroline Criado-Perez got Jane Austen on British 10-pound banknotes and was so relentlessly harassed, she wrote in the midst of the Twitter onslaught, “I actually can’t keep up with the screen-capping & reporting — rape threats thick and fast now. If anyone wants to report the tweets to Twitter.”
But all Twitter can do is suspend accounts. And trolls who are really committed to the cause will just open another account and pick up where they left off.
So what can we do? I like Criado-Perez’s take. Reporting trolls and harassers should be the job of every single user on Twitter.
Let’s take a page from the Twitterati mobs out there and stand together. Let’s stop just ignoring the trolls. Let’s turn and face them. Tell them they’re wrong and that there are more of us decent people who can disagree without threats and shut that mess down.
Lindy West isn’t scared of the trolls. Hell, she met one and wrote a beautiful article about it. Anita Sarkeesian doesn’t just ignore what’s going on. She stands up, she faces the haters and turns it into a powerful statement. Why can’t we all do a little of that too? Let’s not leave these brave ladies hanging out there all alone.
I have a feeling that once we turn the light on the trolls, they won’t be nearly as big and bad as they seem in the dark behind a Twitter handle.
In the meantime, yes, Twitter, you suck at policing abuse. Now go and do something about it.