Gender Based Violence

Violence against Women Online: Threatening Tweets toward Women

In response to a week of user complaints, head of Twitter UK, Tony Wang, apologized via his personal Twitter account to women who had received threats on Twitter:

According to BBC, individuals have been arrested “in relation to rape threats against Labour MP Stella Creasy and feminist campaigner Caroline Criado-Perez.” BBC also reports that similar threats were Tweeted to Hadley Freeman from The Guardian, Grace Dent from The Independent and Catherine Mayer from Time Magazine. Threats against Caroline Criado-Perez have been connected to her involvement with a campaign to add Jane Austen to the new  £10 note, while threats against MP Stella Creasy have continued over the weekend, and even escalated. Today, the Guardian reported that two more women, journalists India Knight and Laurie Penny, have also received bomb threats.

In light of the complaints, including a petition signed by over 129,000 users, Twitter has announced the addition of staff to manage abuse reports, updated its harassment policy, and promised that the “report abuse button” will be available on Twitter for Android and, in addition to the iOS Twitter app. Previously, the ability to report abuse was not directly linked to each tweet.

Ms. Criado-Perez is glad that action is being taken, but argues that it is a week late, and Twitter’s response does not adequately address the issue. “Right now all the emphasis is on the victim, often under intense pressure, to report rather than for Twitter to track down the perpetrator and stop them.” 

Ms. Mayer of Time Magazine is still awaiting a personal apology from Twitter, and directed remarks at Tony Wang: “If he (Mr. Wang) would like to make an apology to me, he can direct message me if he doesn’t want to do it publicly.” She also added that:

We’re not being targeted because we’re activists, we’re being targeted because we’re female.

Social media platforms need to become more sensitive and responsive to issues related to violence against women. These cases uphold a sad reality that  violence against women is still prevalent everywhere in the world, and that violence and abuse are “taking a new form” online, as noted by Ms. Creasy. 

We know how easy it is to make threats, use offensive language, and post offensive photos or videos online. Internet spaces can also at times blur the line between fantasy and reality, and lower the threshold for threatening behavior. When there is no accountability for threats made online, individuals see no reason to refrain from threats, abuse and use of offensive and degrading language. While some claims are unfounded, many are real and can have severe psychological effects on the victims.

Twitter has come to the table late on developing appropriate reporting tools, and has only done so in response to damaging threats that could have been prevented. Although the world is still learning the most efficient ways to adapt itself to online threats, we have known for a very long time that this is a major issue. Twitter’s reporting system was inadequate, and the repercussions are now surfacing. In light of the recent events, other social media platforms should take heed that there may be a push by users for more adequate abuse reporting mechanisms, and develop these as preventative measures instead of waiting for the other shoe to drop. 

Women are not the only group being targeted with hateful messages in online spaces. Racist, homophobic, and anti-Semitic remarks are constant across various social media platforms. With the increasing use of social media, regulators need to come up with more strategic approaches for prevention. With the Internet sometimes keeping us disconnected from the “real world” we need to start taking real approaches to change this mentality.

What content do you think should be acceptable to post or comment about online? What some individuals view as harassment, others do not. Should all posts be monitored, and should social media sites be responsible for ensuring that abuse does not occur? How can social media sites appropriately track their users in cases of abuse? Was Twitter’s response to these recent threats appropriate? Share your thoughts in the comment section!

You can also join the 129,000 plus people who have signed the petition to Add a Report Abuse Button to Twitter!

Featured image: Sallyeva/

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Category: Gender Based Violence    Rights
Tagged with: BBC    Catherine Mayer    Hadley Freeman    journalism    Online threats    Online violence    Rape    reporting abuse    threats    Tony Wang    Twitter    Violence against women