Amnesty International put out a report this week entitled “#ToxicTwitter: Violence and abuse against women online.” It analyzes what it is like to be a woman on Twitter and takes a closer look at the ways the platform fails to protect women against violence and abuse. Spoiler alert: It’s all bad.
“The violence and abuse many women experience on Twitter has a detrimental effect on their right to express themselves equally, freely and without fear,” the study says. “Instead of strengthening women’s voices, the violence and abuse many women experience on the platform leads women to self-censor what they post, limit their interactions, and even drives women off Twitter completely.” To put it more bluntly, Amnesty International published a giant study detailing what most women who actively use Twitter could have already told you: Twitter can be a hostile and dangerous place if you’re not a man.
Conducted with 86 subjects over 14 months, the study is eight chapters long and details a number of instances in which women and nonbinary people faced hate speech, violence, and threats on Twitter. A women’s-rights activist said she was told to drink floor polish after criticizing an actor in an Amazon ad. “I get harassment as a woman and I get the extra harassment because of race and being a black woman. They will call white women a ‘c*nt’ and they’ll call me a ‘n*gger c*nt’. Whatever identity they can pick they will pick it and use it against you,” journalist Imani Gandy said.
Twenty-three percent of women surveyed in eight countries by Amnesty in 2017 said they had faced “online abuse or harassment at least once.” Over half of that percentage said their attacker was a stranger. “Some of the things that have been put on Twitter about me have had people say they know where I live, I’ve had people say that they’ll be outside my work, I’ve had people not just threaten me but also say things that, you know, are clearly veiled threats against my family,” journalist Allison Morris said of the threats she had received. The case studies go on and on. “The assertion that Twitter is consciously unengaged with human rights issues is an unfair representation not just of the facts, but of the ethos of our dedicated teams, and the core mission of the company,” a Twitter representative told Select All.
The study’s final chapter offers Amnesty’s solutions to fixing Twitter for women. (Twitter’s representative told Select All the company agrees with “many” of the recommendations.) Suggestions include getting Twitter to be more transparent with data and information about the prevalence of violence on the platform. Another is fixing reporting structures to have “consistent application and better response to complaints of violence and abuse.” And having Twitter take a more active role in teaching users about how to use existing privacy and safety features — think muting and blocking and keyword filtering — for a better experience online. Decent suggestions Twitter might consider taking to heart the next time it decides to create a tone-deaf ad centered on female empowerment. Pretty sure any woman or nonbinary person would much prefer stricter enforcement of Twitter’s rules to a celebrity-filled commercial, no matter how good the spoken-word poem was.
Update, March 21, 2018, 2:41 p.m.: This post has been updated to include a statement from Twitter. The full statement has been included below.
The assertion that Twitter is consciously unengaged with human rights issues is an unfair representation not just of the facts, but of the ethos of our dedicated teams, and the core mission of the company.
We agree with many of the recommendations contained in the Amnesty International report. A number of the proposals represent work already completed or underway at Twitter. Abuse and hateful conduct directed at women are prohibited on our platform. We have made more than 30 individual changes to our product, policies and operations in the past 16 months. We have increased our action rates ten-fold. We have made significant changes to our reporting tools and continue to improve them as well working to communicate more clearly with our users on reports and how we draft policy. We continue to expand our Transparency Report to include relevant and meaningful data. We have seen extraordinary engagement supporting women. The rise of movements like #MeToo, #WomensMarch, and #PositionOfStrength are testimonies to the power of Twitter as a platform for women and their allies to share stories, offer support, and advocate for change.
We are committed to understanding how we can better combat the hatred and prejudice within society that gives rise to online abuse and how we can encourage a healthier public conversation. We are an open platform and hold a mirror up to human behaviors - both the good and the bad. Everyone has a part to play in building a more compassionate and empathetic society, including Twitter. Our policy, product, and engineering teams continue to work collaboratively to find ways to innovate to protect our users and enhance their experience, particularly as those in our society intent on harm find new ways to hurt and abuse. We look forward to ongoing constructive engagement with Amnesty International and others to find real, lasting solutions to ensure women are safer and feel safer online.