Amnesty International says Twitter is a toxic environment for women

22 Mar 2018

A new Amnesty International report shows Twitter to be an unfriendly place for women. Image: PitukTV/Shutterstock

A 16-month research project from Amnesty International says that Twitter is not doing enough to prevent the abuse of women on its platform.

The first tweet was sent 12 years ago yesterday (21 March) by CEO Jack Dorsey. Amnesty International marked the occasion by publishing a 77-page report entitled #ToxicTwitter: Violence and Abuse Against Women Online.

The organisation conducted both quantitative and qualitative research between December 2016 and March 2018.

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Measuring how women experience Twitter

Many women in the public eye – including politicians, activists, comedians and journalists – were asked about their experience of the platform, and a survey of women without a large public following was also conducted.

Amnesty worked alongside a data scientist who implemented machine-learning tools to analyse abuse against female MPs in the UK on the platform, among other research initiatives.

Abuse rules are inconsistent

The report claimed that Twitter takes an inconsistent approach to its enforcement of abuse response rules and that it has generally not made adequate steps to address content targeting women from threats of rape and death as well as transphobic, racist and homophobic abuse.

A survey of more than 1,100 British women showed that only 9pc believe the company is doing enough to stop violence and abuse against women. 78pc of women surveyed said they believe they could not express an opinion on Twitter without receiving abuse or threats of violence.

Amnesty also conducted a poll last November in eight different countries with a survey sample representative of women in each of those countries, which included the UK, Italy, Denmark and Spain. 41pc of respondents have felt physically threatened by the abuse they encountered on Twitter.

According to the analysis gleaned from the machine-learning element of the project, between 1 January 2017 and 8 June 2017, 25,688 tweets directed at female MPs were abusive, out of a total of 900,223 detected and analysed.

Twitter points to recent safety changes

In response, Twitter said it “cannot delete hatred and prejudice from society” and emphasised that “abuse and hateful conduct directed at women, including direct threats of violence and harassment, are prohibited on Twitter”. The company also noted numerous safety changes it has rolled out over the last few months.

As is the case in the offline world, minorities are subjected to the brunt of the abuse on Twitter. “The research highlights the particular experiences of violence and abuse on Twitter against women of colour; women from ethnic or religious minorities; lesbian, bisexual or transgender women; non-binary individuals; and women with disabilities, to demonstrate the intersectional nature of abuse on the platform.”

Journalist Jessica Valenti told Amnesty: “Abuse on Twitter can include general nastiness or name-calling (you b*tch, slut, c*nt). It can be more targeted harassment or can be more direct threats – which, in the past, I have had directed at my daughter. I’ve had my address, my tax information, as well as my phone number released.”

Author of the report, Azmina Dhrodia, told Gizmodo: “Despite repeated attempts to improve their policies and practices and improve the experience for all users, which are welcome, as a company, Twitter has still not taken sufficient steps to effectively and adequately address reports of violence and abuse, and implement its own guidelines.”

Amnesty recommended that Twitter make data about harassment reports available to the public with information on how many abuse reports it deals with every year and how many tweets the company finds to be abusive.

In a statement, Twitter’s legal, policy, and trust and safety lead, Vijaya Gadde, said: “The assertion that Twitter is consciously unengaged with human rights issues is an unfair representation not just of the facts, but of the ethos of our dedicated teams, and the core mission of the company.”

Ellen Tannam was a journalist with Silicon Republic, covering all manner of business and tech subjects