It’s official: Twitter is a toxic place for women

Amnesty International has some damning new research on online abuse and #ToxicTwitter

Twitter describes itself as a place where ‘every voice has the power to impact the world’. It has undoubtedly provided an arena in which everyone – celebs, world leaders, small-time meme-makers – can air their views. It's also a network that's democratised who can express themselves online... to an extent. The values of the social media platform are being called into question once again, following the publication of a new report by Amnesty International, which has described it as a ‘toxic’ space for women. 

Over a period of the last 16 months, the human rights organisation has been conducting qualitative and quantitative research of women's online interactions (focusing particularly on the UK and USA). The results show the indefensible abuse female Twitter users have experienced. Amnesty claim, “social media platforms like Twitter are not immune to many of the human rights abuses that women face offline... The research highlights the particular experiences of violence and abuse on Twitter against women of colour, women from ethnic or religious minorities, lesbian, bisexual or transgender women – as well as non-binary individuals – and women with disabilities, to expose the intersectional nature of abuse on the platform.”

Fewer than 1 in 10 British women think Twitter is doing enough to stop online violence and abuse, the study found. The report noted that women of colour, women with disabilities, LGBT, and non-binary people were targeted specficially because of their identities, putting marginalised voices at risk. Only 9 per cent of British women think Twitter is doing enough to stop violence and abuse against women, while 78 per cent of British women who expressed an opinion online don’t think Twitter is a place they can share their opinion without receiving violence or abuse.

Amnesty details that many of the women spoken to related they had reported cases of abuse to Twitter and received little to no response. A British journalist told the human rights org she reported over 100 abusive tweets, though only two were addressed.

Amnesty’s research surveys over 1,000 women, and features interviews with 86 women, including public figures such as female politicians, journalists, activists, bloggers, writers, comedians, games developers, and women who use Twitter but do not have a large following. Experts working in areas such as women’s rights, discrimination, technology, and digital rights were also consulted when forming a series of recommendations that could help to reform Twitter and make it a safe digital space for women.

Conflict does seem to be inherent within the structure of Twitter – the way it enables interactions between strangers sharing their views on contentious issues is just asking for fireworks. And, it's safe to say, most women have encountered discrimination or abuse in some form whilst using social media in general. But as one of the most prominent and influential platforms, Twitter have a responsibility to try and protect its users from harassment.  

In 2017, Twitter’s CEO Jack Dorsey stated, “We see voices being silenced on Twitter every day. We’ve been working to counteract this for the past 2 years…We prioritised this in 2016. We updated our policies and increased the size of our teams. It wasn’t enough.”

A more recent update from Twitter disagreed with the research. In a statement, the company said it “cannot delete hatred and prejudice from society”, and explained it had made more than 30 changes to its platform in the past 16 months to improve safety, including increasing the instances of action it takes on abusive tweets. The company repeated its refusal to share data on how it addresses reports of abuse. It said such data “is not informative” because “reporting tools are often used inappropriately”.

In the wake of disappointing findings, the #ToxicTwitter campaign is urging Dorsey to clean up Twitter and end the cesspit of abuse. You can call on Dorsey to must make sure Twitter is a safe space for women and all users by enforcing its rules on hateful conduct and abuse, here.

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