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Amnesty International says Twitter’s toxic culture is failing women

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Twitter has said it ‘cannot delete hatred and prejudice from society’

Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge

Amnesty International says that Twitter is failing to prevent online abuse and protect women’s rights, following a 16-month research project into women’s experiences on social media platforms.

The human rights group says that their findings show Twitter has not taken adequate steps to address and prevent toxic content directed toward women, including death threats, rape threats, and racist, transphobic, and homophobic abuse. In addition, Amnesty says that when Twitter does enforce a response to abuse, it’s inconsistent. Oftentimes, reports aren’t addressed at all, leaving the abusive content on the platform. One UK journalist told Amnesty that out of 100 abusive tweets she reported, Twitter only removed two.

Amnesty International has been researching Twitter and online abuse toward women since December 2016. Its newest survey, which included over 1,100 British women, revealed that only 9 percent believe Twitter is doing enough to stop violence and abuse against women, and 78 percent believe they can’t express an opinion on Twitter without receiving violent threats or abuse.

It has also conducted focus groups with a total of 86 women and non-binary individuals from the UK and US who are prominent public figures online (politicians, journalists, activists, bloggers, writers, comedians, and games developers), and a qualitative survey in early 2017 on the same topic, but for female users without a large public following.

Last year, it commissioned an IPSOS MORI poll to survey women between the ages of 18 and 55 in Denmark, Italy, New Zealand, Poland, Spain, Sweden, the UK, and the US. Twenty-three percent of women surveyed said they had experienced online abuse or harassment at least once, and 41 percent of those respondents said that the abuse or harassment made them feel physically threatened, while 26 percent were doxxed in some form.

“It’s clear that Twitter has become a toxic place for women,” said Kate Allen, director of Amnesty International. “For far too long Twitter has been a space where women can too easily be confronted with death or rape threats, and where their genders, ethnicities and sexual orientations are under attack.”

Amnesty says that under the United Nations (UN) Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, Twitter has a responsibility to prevent discrimination, prevent contributing to abuses of freedom of expression, and be transparent in its efforts in addressing these concerns.

In response, Twitter has said it “cannot delete hatred and prejudice from society,” and reiterated that “abuse and hateful conduct directed at women, including direct threats of violence, and harassment, are prohibited on Twitter.” The company also said there have been 30 changes to its platform in the past 16 months to improve safety, including increasing the instances of action it takes on reported abusive tweets.

Though Amnesty acknowledges steps have been made, it still maintains that Twitter as a whole fails to let users know how it interprets and enforces policies regarding abuse and threats of violence and that enforcement is inconsistent. In addition, it says that specific identity abuse toward women of color, women from ethnic or religious minorities, LGBTQ women, non-binary individuals, and women with disabilities threaten to drive already marginalized voices further out of the conversation.

“The trolls are currently winning, because despite repeated promises, Twitter is failing to do enough to stop them,” says Allen. “Twitter must take concrete steps to address and prevent violence and abuse against women on its platform, otherwise its claim to be on women’s side is meaningless.”

Twitter has been criticized extensively for lack of enforcement of its own rules with toxic culture and abuse toward women on its platform. It has suspended users for simply sharing threatening messages they’ve received, and those reporting rape threats have been told the messages do not violate Twitter’s rules. Recently, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey admitted that the company has not always met user expectations and asked the public to help measure how toxic it is.