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Black women were right not to join #WomenBoycottTwitter

Even in support of the brave Rose McGowan

The revelations surrounding Harvey Weinstein's new status as a sexual predator who has been abusing women in the film industry for decades, have been creating waves throughout the world. More than ten women have come forward to say Weinstein abused them, but none have been more vocal than actor-turned-director Rose McGowan, perhaps best known for her roles in Charmed and Scream.

Just yesterday she revealed on Twitter that Weinstein allegedly raped her, having spoken about the incident without naming the abuser almost exactly a year previously. The tweet, directed toward Amazon’s CEO and using Weinstein's intials, read: “I told the head of your studio that HW raped me.”

However, this was a bold return to Twitter for McGowan who had been banned from the platform after she tweeted “fuck off” to actor Ben Affleck, accusing him of lying about his knowledge of Weinstein’s history of sexual misconduct.

Twitter countered that she had been suspended for tweeting a “private phone number”. But women everywhere, myself included, were indignant. That whistleblower McGowan had her Twitter account removed, despite people like Rob Kardashian – who illegally slut shamed his ex Blac Chyna and posted a phone number – being able to keep their account, unsettled many people.

Twitter was forced to release a statement which said: “Twitter is proud to empower and support the voices on our platform, especially those that speak truth to power. We stand with the brave women and men who use Twitter to share their stories, and will work hard every day to improve our processes to protect those voices.” But this didn't stop software engineer Kelly Ellis coming up with the idea to start the #WomenBoycottTwitter hashtag.

Initially when I saw it I was supportive. Within the admitted echo-chamber of Twitter, women's voices are so important. Depriving men of them for a day seemed a strong statement. But then I realised something: when awful things have happened to women of colour in the past, there hasn't been the same levels of support. It reminded me of what the amazing mother of Heather Heyer said after the death of her daughter, who was killed by a white supremacist in Charlottesville earlier this year: “A white girl had to die for people to pay attention”.

There have been too many examples of women of colour being unsupported by the Twitter elite. Think Leslie Jones and Jemele Hill, the ESPN pundit suspended by her company for speaking up in support of NFL star Colin Kaepernick. I know personally, having reported plenty of racist tweets directed at me in the past, that Twitter is far too slow to act to racism on its platform. And, going back to Rob Kardashian's treatment of Blac Chyna – I would be shocked if his account would have remained active for as long as it did if he had done the same to a white woman. 

Director Ava Duvernay was one of the most vocal opponents of the boycott. “Calling white women allies to recognize conflict of #WomenBoycottTwitter for women of colour who haven't received support on similar issues,” she wrote. Writer roxane gay also tweeted: “Now people want to boycott twitter? Always interesting where and for whom people draw the line.”

Of course, it wasn't just women of colour who rejected the idea of the boycott. Plenty pointed out that getting women to silence their voices may not be the best way to protest a woman literally being silenced by the platform. But in some ways the Twitter boycott does seem to have achieved its aim. Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey announced on Friday 13 October that the social media platform will be rolling out new safety rules in the coming weeks around “unwanted sexual advances, non-consensual nudity, hate symbols, violent groups, and tweets that glorifies violence”.

He tweeted: “Today we saw voices silencing themselves and voices speaking out because we're *still* not doing enough. We've been working intensely over the past few months and focused today on making some critical decisions. We decided to take a more aggressive stance in our rules and how we enforce them.”

Even so, despite my unreserved support for Rose McGowan and all the other women who have spoken up against Harvey Weinstein, I certainly didn't partake in the Twitter boycott, and I can understand why many of my black women peers didn't either.