The popular social networking site Twitter is facing a major backlash over claims it is failing to deal with threats of sexual abuse made on its site.
A host of MPs and other leading public figures have threatened a boycott after a feminist campaigner highlighted numerous threats of rape and other violent acts being sent to her on Twitter. Caroline Criado-Perez, who finally won her fight to have prominent women represented on Britain’s bank notes this week, claimed that her complaints to the site have been ignored.
A petition was soon set up demanding more robust action from the site and attracted more than 6,000 signatures within three hours. That figure had passed the 11,000 mark this afternoon.
“It is a problem involving a certain type of man who can’t cope with a woman being vocal and being in the public eye. They deal with it by shutting women up with threats of sexual violence. It is nothing new, it has been going on for millennia; this is just its most recent incarnation,” said Ms Criado-Perez.
The campaign of hatred against her began during her bank note fight. Ms Criado-Perez, who also runs the Women’s Room campaign to promote women in the media, played a pivotal role in ensuring that Jane Austen would feature on the £10 note.
And she said that, once the decision was announced by new Governor of the Bank of England Mark Carney, the abuse escalated and began to attract the attention of fellow Twitter users. She reported it to the police and claims that she tried to alert Twitter’s manager of journalism & news Mark Luckie. But his response appeared to be to simply set his account to private, making his updates invisible to most users. Ms Criado-Perez said she is still awaiting a substantive response.
She added: “The internet makes it very easy to make this sort of threat, and sites that don’t make it easy to report abuse like this make men like those who have been threatening me feel like there will be no comeback. I told some of them they would not get away with it and they just laughed; at the moment, they are right.
“There has been a deafening silence from Twitter. The accounts of the men who said those things are still active. There needs to be a massive culture shift at Twitter.”
A host of people threatened to boycott Twitter on 4 August in protest at its perceived inaction. Journalist Caitlin Moran wrote: “We could all leave on August 4th - International Friendship Day, kind of apt.” And, referring to the act of posting provocative messages online – known as “trolling” - she added: “[We should] tweet the holding message ‘Waiting for a troll solution.’”
She received support from actress Rebecca Front and comedian Dara Ó Briain, among others. But some pointed out that the abuse meted out to Ms Criado-Perez went beyond simple trolling and constituted a serious criminal offence.
MPs Stella Creasy, Yvette Cooper, Diane Abbott and John Woodcock all expressed disgust at the abuse. Ms Creasy said: “What Caroline has had to deal with in the past day is not only disgusting, but criminal. A quick look at Twitter this morning shows that women are not prepared to stand by and take this kind of abuse. Twitter needs to get its house in order, and fast.”
John Coventry, spokesman for Change.org - which is hosting the petition to have a more effective reporting system installed – said: “Caroline’s shown already this week with the Bank of England that campaigning works - it will be fascinating to see how Twitter responds - thousands signing a petition in one morning is a significant backlash.”
Kim Graham, who started the petition, said: “I couldn’t believe what I was reading yesterday. Caroline’s campaign was phenomenal and now she’s facing a relentless barrage of violent threats. I set up this Change.org petition because Twitter must take some responsibility for this.”
A Twitter spokesman refused to comment on an individual account. The spokesman added: “However, we have rules which people agree to abide by when they sign up to Twitter. We will suspend accounts that once reported to us, are found to be in breach of our rules. We encourage users to report an account for violation of the Twitter rules by using one of our report forms.”
The site has always maintained that it exists to offer an open platform for free expression but it does have a record of suspending users who use Twitter to abuse others.