Leslie Jones has used Twitter to great effect in the past, but the comedian has tonight faced the worst of the microblogging service, as hundreds of people bombarded her with racist and insulting tweets. The sheer number of virulently racist messages prompted Jones to reply, saying in her own series of tweets that it was not enough to simply ignore attacks online, and calling for Twitter to have stronger guidelines on hate speech.
The root of the abuse is Jones' starring role in the rebooted Ghostbusters, a movie that angered certain corners of the internet by featuring an all-female cast, a decision that apparently "ruined the childhoods" of some individuals. While other female cast members faced their own attacks, the worst of the vitriol was saved for Jones, who is black. Some trolls co-opted existing memes to target the comedian, referring to slain gorilla Harambe and the infamous Donkey Kong Rap in their tweets, while others simply hurled racist slurs from behind memes and ubiquitous anime avatars.
Jones started by describing some of the abuse she'd received in the week after Ghostbusters' premiere, saying that she had been called an "ape," received photos of the troll mooning the camera, and "even got a pic with semen on my face." Soon after she stopped blocking abusers, instead tweeting screenshots of the kind of "evil" comments she was receiving from strangers every few minutes, and calling the situation "fucking scary."
A number of users advised Jones to ignore the comments — an approach she rejected.
Stop saying ignore them or that's just the way it is. Cause that's bullshit. Everybody knows an asshole check them for their hate.— Leslie Jones (@Lesdoggg) July 19, 2016
She also railed against the argument that she "should not stoop to their level," telling followers that it was "way past that," and that she had "every right to be offended and pissed."
And for all the "don't stoop to their level people" it's way past that. So please have a seat. Don't tell me how to react.— Leslie Jones (@Lesdoggg) July 19, 2016
Jones called for Twitter to implement stronger guidelines in how it monitors and cracks down on the kind of hate speech she and others have faced, suggesting that it wasn't enough to freeze an account, but that the perpetrators should be reported. Soon after, Jones reported alt-right idol and GamerGate ringleader Milo Yiannopoulis to Twitter after he incited his followers to target her, and insulted her directly.
The #LoveForLeslieJ hashtag spawned in response to the racist attacks, other celebrities offered their support, including Margaret Cho, Dan Savage, and Ghostbusters director Paul Feig. A Twitter spokesperson also issued a statement to BuzzFeed. "This type of abusive behavior is not permitted on Twitter, and we've taken action on many of the accounts reported to us by both Leslie and others," said the statement. "We rely on people to report this type of behavior to us but we are continuing to invest heavily in improving our tools and enforcement systems to prevent this kind of abuse. We realize we still have a lot of work in front of us before Twitter is where it should be on how we handle these issues."
For its huge user base, Twitter is still sorely lacking in ways to insulate a user from an incoming barrage of hate, and painfully slow to react to toxic users who use their accounts primarily to attack others. Some of the worst tweets called out overnight by Jones have been deleted — perhaps by Twitter, or perhaps by their shamed creators — but others remain, tied to anonymous accounts with long histories of the kind of hate speech that would not be tolerated in the real world.
If the service wants to stop shedding customers, money, and share prices, it will need to take Leslie Jones' advice and think about how it protects its users.
Update July 19th, 8:15AM ET: Added statement from Twitter, via BuzzFeed.