Amnesty International says Twitter’s toxic culture is failing women

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.


Why does this just apply to twitter? It applies to any media. Twitter cant magically make people stop being assholes.

But it can ban assholes from using their platform.

Pretty sure they would end up with like, 3 people still tweeting after that.

Nobody said it just applies to Twitter. Just because it applies elsewhere doesn’t mean we should throw up our hands and just give up.

We all manage to have a conversation here (mostly) without trolls ruining the experience. That’s because The Verge takes moderation seriously.

Twitter is a quasi-public space. If they don’t want it taken over by assholes, they should manage that space.

Because Twitter doesn’t even try or care. They see hatred and prejudice as the price for using their platform.

Kind of ridiculous. Twitter is not a necessity. If you don’t like what they are doing, stop using the platform and eventually they will feel the pain and either change or go under.

All the companies (Verge included) that support Twitter by way of links and (I assume) requiring their employees to use Twitter are just as complicit as Twitter itself.

It’s ridiculous to ask for a chance at reasonable conversation, without trolls harassing you and issuing rape and death threats? Okie dokie.

There are many, MANY ways to have a conversation without using Twitter.

People can absolutely ask Twitter to be better, and they have. This article is pointing out the fact that despite the outcry, Twitter hasn’t done enough. So, at some point after clearly pointing out their problems without them fixing things, it is on the consumer to say "F This, you people don’t get it, I’m out".

I can get on board with the call for transparency, but advocating censorship is best left to rot with the bones of the pre-modern world.

Look up what censorship actually means.

"the suppression or prohibition of any parts of books, films, news, etc. that are considered obscene, politically unacceptable, or a threat to security."

Do I get a cookie, or did you have a point you were hoping to make?

Censorship is the government regulating speech, not how a private business manages its space. The point is that you don’t know what you’re talking about.

Uh no, the word is not limited to government, or even institutional, actions in any common dictionary. It’s also been commonly used in reference to the actions of individuals or adjectivally as a description of individual character (i.e. ‘he is a censorious person’).

You can’t just make up a definition and then pretend the widely accepted lexicals are wrong. Neither MW nor the OED support your definition. The meaning of the word in no way precludes Twitter from ‘censoring’ speech on it’s platform.

The dictionary is not a legal document. Two facts:

  1. The government is not regulating your speech on Twitter. There is no censorship.
  2. A private business can legally limit the speech that occurs in its space.

If you want to lose the discussion about whether a private business can limit speech, go try calling people racial slurs at work and then come back and whine about the dictionary definition of censorship.

Context clues my friend; I never made a legal claim or said anything that set the context to be a legal one. That’s actually not even a problem of missing context clues, you just didn’t seem to actually read what I wrote but insisted on wading in anyway. I just said censorship (in the general use of the word, to be clear) is best left in the dust bin of history with the rest of our intellectual and social refuse.

Obviously people and companies are legally free to do all sorts of things that are in fact unethical or irrational, and Twitter is no exception.

Censorship does not require a government to occur. You may want to consider self-censorship, both as a way of internalizing the previous idea and, well, in general.

Dude, in this case it is the UN (an international governing body) trying to force Twitter’s hand. Most definitely an attempt at governmental censorship.

I also agree in general that censorship is not limited to government, but at the same time it is not always a bad thing. If Twitter (or any platform) chooses to censor things for the betterment of their business that is their prerogative and I wouldn’t fault them for that.

Late EDIT: Not actually the UN doing it, but AI using the UNs regulations to imply that Twitter is wrong.

Everything Twitter is being called out on stems from a simple word, "consistency". Toxicity is and will always be part of our society, it is not how to remove it from their platform, the key is how to moderate it that makes the differences. Twitter setup punishment level but did not provide a clear concise set of guidelines and training for their message moderators to moderate language on twitter with context, which resulted in inconsistency in punishments based on the moderator’s personal interpretation. It is also contradicting that Twitter, a company that stride on sharing messages on social media, cannot defined what type of message is considered toxicity and what is not.

Many more will continue to criticize Twitter until the day they can finally deliver consistency in their moderation methods.

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