Finding a woman whose been harassed by rape threats on Twitter is very easy. And Twitter still isn't fixing the broken system, leaving many women targets for physical harm.
In August, Robin Williams' daughter Zelda left Twitter due to harassment from pretty horrible trolling. There's no question to that, really, since she announced as much after begging other users to report the abuse. And Twitter promised a better platform. Yet, it's approximately a month later and very little seems to have changed in how to report harassment. (Except that Zelda finally returned.)
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The Atlantic’s Robinson Meyer noted that a study focusing on reporting abuse methods on social media concluded the flagging system may be outdated. Through close examination and inquiry, Microsoft researcher Kate Crawford and Cornell University professor Tarleton Gillespie found that a singular flag no longer provides enough data to handle an influx of users.
Twitter has millions of followers and to slog through a self-appointed system means that real problems are often ignored. Meanwhile, the microblogging powerhouse spends more effort in contacting and interacting with misbehaving ads than actual users.
And saying the harassed party may, if lucky, find some kind of resolution does not offer incentive for users to be forthcoming. TechHive even points out that Williams’ followers working in action together would have “Twitter’s safety team move faster to solve the problem” because the same links would keep stacking up.
In addition, the condescending “speak to the abuser offline” signals to women that their social value and contributions are not nearly as important as fixing the problem away from Twitter’s sphere. Not to mention the assumption of geographic availability.
TW When users are abusive and send me rape threats I report them for spam because Twitter is more likely to ban spam accounts than rapists.— Pantophile Panic (@PantophilePanic) September 12, 2014
Actually, one example of sexual harassment and threats of rape cropped up today on Twitter.
Female reviewers on That Guy With The Glasses constantly receive sexual and domestic violence threats. Look at any comments from Lesbian Talk's postings and you'll find not only gender-related harassment, but sexual orientation as well.
There are a lot of men who act as if women are put online to support a male-dominant society. I won't discuss the particular groups, but one's made some pretty clear divisions in one fandom. And sadly, as a woman, it's not shocking to experience the rather grotesque actions of some men.
And columnist Amanda Hess notes in "Why Women Aren’t Welcome On The Internet,” online activity seems to be split evenly between the two genders. Yet women face constant vile comments about being raped, killed, or any combination of the two. Referencing Working to Holt Online Abuse (WHOA)’s set of statistics out of 3,787 cases of online harassment between 2010 and 2012, 72.5 percent were female.
If someone's harassing/threatening someone you know, DON'T ENGAGE, just REPORT. Say you're authorized on their behalf or report for spam.— Mara Wilson (@MaraWritesStuff) September 13, 2014
Almost every woman I know, speak to, or call friend may easily claim some kind of harassment online. The only difference is the amount of and/or kind of sexual harassment.
Between my Twitter feed and my loved ones, I came across an action of one person in the TGWTW fandom who seems to revel in harassing and threatening women. Both Omega Geek and Diamanda Hagan comprise the podcast for Lesbian Talk, a weekly casting discussing quite a bit of geekery (lots and lots of Doctor Who) and life experiences for the married couple.
Remember those disgusting comments I discussed? They seem to be the appetizers to the disgusting actions of human.
And now one Twitter harasser’s decided to join the TGWTG Misogyny Club and threatened to rape Hagan. Omega discussed about the topic on her personal twitter, where she didn't hide any feelings. While the two seem amused in some of the posts, remember that at times humor is the only way to move beyond the nasty threats. Coping methods are very important.
Danny threatened to rape my wife. She wondered about the cost of airfare and the likelihood of him being stamped into the UK for 'raping'.— Omega Geek (@TheOmegaGeek) September 13, 2014
I went back and forth in discussing the user’s name, due to the harassment that I'm sure will follow. And a very distinct possibility he will be able to find my location through the internet, as he's already done that to women before—today, even.
But as much as I would like to protect my own well-being, I would rather protect everyone else's. Essentially, Danny—as he labeled himself on the suspended account @DannyWiiU and reaffirmed on this account—needs to be observed by Twitter. If larger social media sites can IP block, Twitter should be able to implement similar behavior.
Taking the path of least resistance route doesn’t pay off.
And Danny needs to realize that not everyone will cower in fear from harassment. His schtick, by the way, is to tweet, "Make me a burping video for my birthday or else I'll rape you." Charming, isn’t it?
Danny threatened Hagan's safety and it's not the first time he's committed such actions. It looks as if the fandom itself knows to be wary, to watch out for Danny. Why?
Danny has no reservation in attacking many different women, including former child star Mara Wilson (Matilda, Mrs. Doubtfire). Earlier today, he even mentioned “*rapes you forever*” to the actress. Because that’s not at all threatening, right?
In the case of Hagan and Omega, he flat out says to Omega, "I'm raping you too." Right. That's definitely harassment. And the two women are simply the latest in a long line of harassment. I consider this information very important for women looking to enter the reviewing fandom and community.
Except as a bystander, Twitter will not consider my opinion important. A woman fearing for her safety is not important unless she becomes attacked, hurt, or threatened. At least that's what I'm understanding about Twitter's policies.
I tried to report Danny for threatening not only Omega and Hagan, but other women, as well. Because as a woman online, I do actually care about public policy when dealing with someone threatening to rape someone.
RAINN's statistics show that 9 out of every 10 victims are women, so it's not that bizarre to be concerned about a user threatening and harassing only women. And the fact every 2 minutes a woman is sexually assaulted shows the value in taking the harassment seriously. And if the user knows someone’s home address, the chances jump significantly higher.
Instead of Twitter helping and evaluating the actions of abusers, I received this email:
This is an AUTOMATED response from our support system.
Thank you for submitting your report. The Twitter Trust & Safety Team only reviews harassment reports when:
1) You are directly involved OR
2) You are legally authorized to report on behalf of a person being abused or harassed.
This policy is in place to ensure that we are in direct contact with the person experiencing the abuse or harassment. This allows us to request additional information and context if necessary. Based on the information you’ve provided, your report does not appear to meet with either of the above criteria and has not been reviewed. The contents of your report, however, may be used to help improve the systems and tools used to identify abusive behavior on the platform.
If you do meet one of the above criteria or if you believe this content is potentially illegal in your local jurisdiction, please respond to this email with additional information. Doing so will result in a review of this report.
The email then helpfully turned into a victim-blaming session by telling people to avoid the harassment.
What else can you do?
Do not respond to the user. Responding to someone who is intentionally attempting to aggravate you or others may encourage them to continue their behavior.
Block or mute the user.
Learn more about how to deal with abusive users and our abusive behavior policy.
Learn how to flag inappropriate media.
If you feel threatened or are in danger, please contact your local law enforcement. You can point local law enforcement to our Guidelines for Law Enforcement.
Even though Zelda Williams ended up getting some sort of justice for the trolls' disgusting behavior, the policy seemingly hasn't changed. Twitter's been a powerful tool for those seeking a voice, a representation. However, the lack of awareness of user base, harassment, and actual threats are somewhat mind-boggling.
And it should be noted other users have received the same email in response unacceptable comments. The company makes the idea of community concern unimportant in the grand scheme of policy. Even if Danny has threatened to call and abuse one user and reviewer because the information was obtained through public records.
Take a look at the suggestion about how to avoid being harassed: "Do not respond to the user.
Responding to someone who is intentionally attempting to aggravate you or others may encourage them to continue their behavior." Okay, smart answer except the only way to report abusive behavior is if "you are directly involved" or "you are legally authorized to report on behalf of a person being abused or harassed."
Wait, so let's reexamine this information that has cover-your-butt written all over it. You're allowed to report someone harassing you personally, but you're not really supposed to actively engage them...on a social media site with multi-million accounts and where harassers can make a new account every minute.
And then the suggestion is to block or mute the user. I've used the block and mute buttons. Brilliant pieces of technology. Problems arise when the user is continuously using your name and you can't see it. How do you report the behavior if you can't actively see and witness since the reports expect evidence?
And if you are threatened, please don't bother the platform you're using. Just go directly to law enforcement. After all, cyber bullying isn't a problem in world. And please ignore the fact that cyber bullying and stalking laws are often out-of-date before they even pass.
Hess posted her own tale of Twitter accounts set up just to harass and threaten the idea of a vocal woman online. In “Why Women Aren’t Welcome On The Internet,” the journalist explains how even calling law enforcement wasn’t helpful since the officer didn’t understand Twitter. Clearly, Palm Springs PD hadn’t joined social media yet.
And comically, the little points tell you to "learn how to flag inappropriate behavior," like when a user is threatening to rape or kill someone. If you do use the site form, you get the above email that says if it's not your personhood then you're out of luck. So how do you effectively flag user behavior? No one knows.
In fact, CraigsList has a better flagging system than Twitter-which is a faster-moving, higher traffic site that makes majority of revenue from the users.
Somehow, the 140-character limiting site has time to find a way to create a buy button for products, but not a straight-forward tactic for handling high-level abuse by self-identified people already banned from the site. The cycle of victimization skyrockets when a website no longer interacts with the userbase.
Twitter's very, very good for journalists to promote their work and interact with readers. And more news outlets are looking for journalists to self-promote their own work in the digital age. But the force of self-promotion puts media at risk of harassment or worse.
As Hess pointed out, the threats are considered toothless by many, especially those how have not faced the onslaught of sick behavior. You can’t just ignore the action and hope it’ll go away.
“Threats of rape, death, and stalking can overpower our emotional bandwidth, take up our time, and cost us money through legal fees, online protection services, and missed wages." Courts are depressingly slow in protecting women against harassment. Twitter’s dismissal, to your local police, does not help the women when agencies pass the buck back and forth.
Today I was told by a friend I get rape and death threats because I'm 'making a fuss' on the internet, so it's apparently my own fault.— Lisa Persson (@IschysSyrra) September 13, 2014
Danny is not the first nor the last person to victimize on Twitter—but not being able to counter and push back against aggressive tactics enocuraging scare and intimidate means the victimizers and abusers will always win. Major sites discuss the importance of net neutrality, banding together to support the treatment of users equally. But the actions of Twitter do not match the offered words of assurance.
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Users are more than potential customers; they're people with voices who communicate and use tools to express outrage over bad decisions. Stripping observers of the chance to prevent an abhorrent act means that value only lies in commercialization. And that is what leads to preventable actions dragging down a company's social and economic representation.