Twitter, like, well, most places in the world, isn’t a great place to be a woman. Ask any woman who has spent some time engaging on the platform — doesn’t have to be a famous woman, or a woman with a verified account, though those women will almost certainly have stories — and she’ll likely tell you about being verbally harassed, about being called a bitch or a cunt. About being DM’ed dick pics that she never asked for. About being threatened with rape or murder. About, if things got really bad for her, being doxed and having her personal information — her home address, her phone number, her parents’ home address and phone number — shared widely online. This is, despite Twitter’s continual attempts to curb harassment on the platform, what it’s like to be a nonman on Twitter. So it wasn’t a particularly great look during Sunday night’s Academy Awards when Twitter chose to air a female-empowerment ad built around the hashtag #HereWeAre.
This was the first time Twitter has even run a TV ad during the Oscars and it beefed it. The 60-second spot jump-cuts between shots of over a dozen Hollywood women while poet Denice Frohman reads a piece out loud. “I heard a woman becomes herself the first time she speaks without permission,” we hear Frohman say as faces like Ava DuVernay, Issa Rae, Julie Dash, and former undersecretary of State Charlotte Beers flash onscreen. Old women. Young women. White women. Women of color. It’s clear Twitter put a concerted effort into creating a powerful and intersectional ad. It wanted this to look good … to make itself look good. It is an ad, after all. “Tell them when we discovered life on another planet, it was a woman, and she built a bridge, not a border. I heard this is how you make history, this is how you create a new world,” Frohman concludes, the hashtag #HereWeAre appearing onscreen behind her as she exits the frame.
#HereWeAre started in 2017 after tech trade show CES announced a lineup of speakers with a laughably low number of women on the list. Twitter CMO Leslie Berland started using #HereWeAre to highlight the number of women in tech, and the women in tech at the event. (Twitter then hosted a CES event featuring a lineup entirely of women.) In the last six months, Twitter says it’s seen a 50 percent jump in “conversation around women’s rights.” Which is, obviously, great. People — not just women — are talking about systemic problems and using hashtags like #MeToo and #TimesUp. But it’s more likely that has less to do with Twitter’s actions and more to do with the IRL Zeitgeist. The platform still really hasn’t come all that far from Leslie Jones being so viciously attacked in 2016 that she left the platform entirely. (And then returned — triumphantly — because that’s what it’s like to be a woman online.)
All you have to do is look at the replies to the #HereWeAre ad on Twitter to see what Twitter is really like for women. The top reply shows screenshots of racist, slur-filled tweets directed at a woman from earlier in March. Of this year. As in, Twitter’s new and improved system, while it sounds good on paper, might not actually be working at full efficiency. So, yes, Twitter, we are here. And we are being harassed. Skip the self-aggrandizing ads until that’s the exception and not the rule.