Amnesty International slams Twitter for response to online harassment of women

Amnesty International slams Twitter for response to online harassment of women
Photo credit: Getty.

Amnesty International have released a report slamming Twitter for not doing enough to keep women on its platform safe from harassment.

Titled #toxictwitter, the report features interviews with 86 women and non-gender binary individuals about their experiences of harassment on Twitter and documents the company's response.

Amnesty International also commissioned a poll of 4000 women on Twitter aged between 18 and 55 in New Zealand, the UK, the US, Poland, Spain, and Sweden. Nearly a quarter of the women surveyed said they had experienced online abuse or harassment at least once.

The poll found that:

  • 41 percent of women who had experienced online abuse or harassment said that on at least one occasion, these online experiences made them feel that their physical safety was threatened

  • Over three quarters (76 percent) of women who had experienced harassment made changes to the way they used social media.This included restricting what they post about

  • 32 percent of women said they’d stopped posting content that expressed their opinion on certain issues

Of the 500 women surveyed in New Zealand, almost a third said they had experienced online abuse. Two thirds said they felt 'powerless' and about three-quarters said it had affected their self-confidence and their ability to focus on everyday tasks.

Around half of the women said they feared for their physical safety as a result of harassment while a third feared for the physical safety of their family.

"Our investigation shows that Twitter is failing to provide adequate remedies for those who experience violence and abuse on Twitter. As a company it needs to do much more to respect the human rights of women,” said Meg de Ronde, Acting Executive Director at Amnesty International New Zealand.

The report outlines recommendations for how Twitter can become safer for women, such as:

  • Sharing specific examples of violence and abuse that will not be tolerated

  • Sharing data on response times to reports of abuse, setting targets and reporting regularly

  • Ensuring that decisions to restrict content are consistent with international human rights law and standards

Twitter's Managing Director of Europe, Sinéad McSweeney, responded to these allegations by saying that Twitter can never guarantee no-one will experience harassment but that it has explicitly prohibited all abuse and hateful conduct directed at women, including direct threats of violence, and harassment.

"The assertion that Twitter is consciously unengaged on these issues is flagrantly unrepresentative of the facts, the ethos of this team, and the core mission of Twitter as a company."

Ms McSweeney said that the rise of movements such as #metoo and the Women's March are testimonies to the power of Twitter as a platform and the company had been proud to support them.

She also pointed to 30 individual changes to Twitter's policies over the past 16 months to improve online safety while saying the company takes action on 10 times the number of abusive accounts as the same time last year.

"We believe in the power of the platform but understand also that it often reflects the worst as well as the best of society."

Ms De Rhonde states in the report that Twitter may be taking steps in the right direction and thinks they do genuinely want to be part of positive change, but says more action is needed.

"Without taking further concrete steps to effectively identify and account for violence and abuse against women, Twitter cannot credibly claim to be on women's side."

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