malicious communications: twitter, sexism and iEthics
So, do you want to hear the good news or the bad news? Well, the good news is that UK feminist campaigner and journalist, Caroline Criado-Perez was successful in her push for the inclusion of women (other than the Queen) on British bank notes, with Jane Austen to feature on the £10 note from 2017. The bad news is that (post)feminist victories come at the price of hoards of virtual Neanderthal trolls voicing their misogynist hate freedom of speech.
After her success, Criado-Perez was met with a deluge of sexist harassment on Twitter, including death threats and threats of violence and rape. When the onslaught of abuse became too much, Criado-Perez attempted to report the harassment to Twitter, to minimal avail, with her abusers taunting her that ‘the police wouldn’t be able to unrape her’.
Although the response from Twitter has been particularly weak considering the seriousness of the abuse, the metropolitan police have arrested a man on suspicion of harassment and malicious communications.
A petition in support of Criado-Perez is calling for Twitter to improve its procedures for the reporting of abusive tweets. This would ideally take the form of a single click ‘report abuse’ button. As well as the petition, which is now over 50, 000 signatures strong, a boycott of the social media network on the fourth of August is also being advocated in order to draw attention to this issue.
This is not the first time Twitter has dissolved into an anti-woman free-for-all, Jezebel writer (and kind of my hero), Lindy West, was similarly harassed and abused for her arguments against rape jokes earlier this year.
In response to the sexist trolling routinely experienced not only women in the public eye, but also by female users of the Internet more broadly, Criado-Perez eloquently explained that ‘it is a problem with a certain type of man who can’t cope with a woman being vocal and in the public eye. They deal with it by shutting women up with threats of sexual violence.’ Word, sister.
The virtual ‘shut up, you dumb fat whore’ is the last gasp of the obsolete, beta-male. Threatened by feminine intelligence and autonomy, bitter that he would never have a chance with today’s empowered women, he resorts to playing the final card he holds, misogyny. The misogynist troll uses offensive language such as ‘bitch’, ‘slut,’ and ‘whore’ to shame women by drawing attention to their embodied femaleness, which, to them in their sexist little minds, is the ultimate locus of shame. By reminding the vocal woman that she has a female body, the misogynist troll believes that he has made whatever she had to say invalid.
Because sexist trolling of this kind is widespread, not just on Twitter, but all over the Internet, social media companies need to start taking it more seriously. As with the similar campaign that successfully lobbied Facebook to act more efficiently on sexist hate speech, there is a sense that the websites themselves are not progressing at the same rate as the usage.
Social media is becoming a major facet of everyday public life for millions of people world wide, and as we are seeing, with cases like Criado-Perez’, there are major social and legal implications for online actions. We are clearly in the midst of a time in which we need to reassess and create anew our ethical codes of conduct as we increasingly upload our daily lives to the Twittersphere.
Update: On August 3rd, Twitter announced a crackdown on cyber-abuse and improved reporting processes for victims of said-abuse. The General Manager of Twitter UK, Tony Wang, apologised to three female journalists who have been threatened with rape via the micro-blogging site.
By Ruby Grant
Have you ever been abused online?
What should victims of abuse do when faced with trolls?
Would you boycott social media to affect change?
The absolute filth that some people type is just shocking.
I read the comments on Criado=Perez’s article and realised I should stop reading comments. The majority opinion seems to be ‘oh, people being bullied online should just turn off their computer’ – this is ridiculous! It’s the equivalent of someone saying ‘oh, you don’t like being threatened with rape when you go outside? Stay inside!’.
Thanks for such a thoughtful article, Ruby. Rant over.