Back in April, a small group of women took on the Bank of England in a campaign to keep a woman on British bank notes. Four months and over 35,000 signatures later, they were successful. But what happened next was the ultimate kick in the proverbials: streams and streams of abuse. Rape threats, death threats – you name it, it was there.
Aside from some deep-seated misogyny, the verbal abuse many women on Twitter have endured this week – and indeed in all the other weeks before that – tells us something else: in all of our excitement to get surfing the net and merrily tweet away, watch YouTube, and post gifs of Benedict Cumberbatch to Tumblr, we went and forgot to decide on a few ground rules and how we would enforce them.
Granted, the basic “don’t behave like a dick” was a given, but no one ever stopped and said “Right lads, we’re about to open the internet to everybody now, but before we do that let’s make sure that if people start threatening to blow each other up, we can deal with them properly.”
Fortunately, after much pestering, Twitter’s UK chief finally made the important first move of committing to doing something about the toerags on his service who – driven by an embarrassingly obvious fear of outspoken and confident women – insist on threatening to rape any woman who dares express an opinion.
Making Twitter a safer and more pleasant place will be a difficult task, but in a world where Doctor Who and Malcolm Tucker can be the same person, anything is possible.
Here are just a few things that Twitter should consider doing so we can all get back to talking about the X Factor and retweeting Buzzfeed articles without worrying about some of our number getting inundated with horrific abuse.
One of the original requests from some of those who were attacked, it’s a surprise the feature didn’t exist earlier. Twitter has since responded, and a button has been added on the iOS app and mobile web. Great, now let’s see it in the browser version as well.
“But that would be expensive! Twitter isn’t a charity! If people don’t like it they shouldn’t use it!”
Yes, it’d cost money. But Twitter owes a duty to its users to prevent them from being bombared with abuse on its service, and can you imagine what it would say about the company’s position on misogyny and death threats if it told the offended users to go elsewhere?
Co-operate with the police
Threatening to rape or kill someone is a crime. Even mild harassment brings you within the realm of the law. Twitter needs to put the safety and comfort of its users first and pass any potential evidence on to the police if requested. No ifs, no buts.
Mobile account verification
Trolls are persistent buggers. With seemingly little else going on in their lives, they sit and create multiple accounts so when one gets banned they can continue spreading the hate with another. Doing that is easy, but if they had to verify their account before they could tweet – say by typing in a code that was texted to them à la Facebook and Google – the fact that Twitter has their phone number means they’d be less likely to go nuts.
The only problem with this is: do we really need to give up any more personal data? Maybe in this situation it’s a sacrifice worth making.
Split mentions from people you follow and those you don’t
It’s a fair assumption that the main bulk of your chat is going to be with people you follow. It’s an even fairer assumption that you’re not following the people likely to be hurling abuse your way. In this respect, Facebook has nailed it with its messaging – by separating mentions from people you follow and people you don’t, there’s no need to wade through pages of calculated misery to be able to see when someone has contacted you that you actually want to hear from.
It’s not a perfect solution on its own, but aside from shielding users somewhat from any abuse, it would be quite a useful tool for users with lots of followers who want to avoid tweets like these: