Twitter is Under Fire for Allowing Abusive Tweets

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More than 50,000 people have signed a petition to add a “report abuse” button to Twitter accounts after a woman received more than 50 sexually-abusive tweets in an hour, CNN reports.

Caroline Criado-Perez was campaigning for more women to be represented on banknotes after it was announced that Winston Churchill would be on the new £5 note replacing Elizabeth Fry. With that change, the only woman represented on British pounds would be the Queen. Criado-Perez’s campaign was successful and they announced last Wednesday that Jane Austen will be on the new £10 note.

Shortly after the announcement, Criado-Perez started receiving sexually-abusive threats via Twitter. These went unchecked for 12 hours until the police tracked down and arrested a 21-year-old Manchester man. Now Twitter activists are calling for better ways to fight abuse and created a day-long boycott to raise awareness.

Currently, Twitter users can report abuse by filling out a form in the support section on the Twitter help center; however, there’s an addendum that advises victims to go to the police and settle the problems offline if they genuinely feel endangered.

If someone means you harm, just removing the threatening statements does not make the issue go away.

Furthermore, if Twitter deactivates an abusive account, the user can just create another one as Twitter doesn’t block the IP address – which is ineffective anyway.

The petitioners want to add a “Report for abuse” button on profile pages next to the “Report for spam” option. They also want Twitter to conduct a thorough review of their abusive accounts policy to make improvements.

Abusive comments run rampant on Twitter, where celebrities and other people who thrown into the spotlight are attacked just for existing. Anytime Selena Gomez breaks up with Justin Bieber (or gets back together with Justin Bieber, or goes to lunch with Justin Bieber) she receives multiple death threats from “beliebers.” Rihanna is regularly threatened by Chris Brown fans despite the fact that Chris Brown was the one who attacked her. Twitter is a place where people can directly connect with celebrities and public figures, which also means they can openly threaten them.

Twitter isn’t the only social network that has needed to crack down on abusive accounts. Facebook has promised to remove ads from pages with offensive content and recently retooled their community standards to use a stricter definition of sexual-abuse. Both Twitter and Facebook are stuck in the crossroads of allowing free speech and keeping their websites safe for users.

As the negative publicity was building up, Twitter general manager Tony Wang commented on Saturday about the events, saying that Twitter takes online abuse reports seriously and they are currently testing ways to simplify the reporting process – including adding a report abuse button for the iPhone app. According to The Guardian, a Twitter spokesperson confirmed the ability to report abuse on iPhones and plans to bring that option to other platforms.

Caroline Criado-Perez has turned her Twitter attack into an opportunity to shed light on the abuse and threats that are common for public figures – and particularly women – online. If Twitter works to adopt a better reporting system, its corner of the Internet will be safer, cleaner, and more appealing users.

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