One man arrested as feminist campaigner receives barrage of threats on Twitter

29 Jul 2013

The Jane Austen stg£10 note that will come as a result of Caroline Criado-Perez's campaign

Freelance journalist and feminist campaigner Caroline Criado-Perez had reason to celebrate last week as she effectively campaigned for more women’s faces on UK currency. However, the success of her campaign has been followed by online threats, as well as calls for Twitter to make it easier for its users to report abuse.

When the Bank of England decided to replace Elizabeth Fry’s face with that of Winston Churchill on the stg£5 bank note, Criado-Perez, co-founder of The Women’s Room, realised this would mean that no female figures except Queen Elizabeth II would appear on its currency. In an effort to address this, she started an online petition for more female faces on UK banknotes and, after receiving more than 35,500 signatures, it was effective. The Bank of England announced on Wednesday, 24 July, that it will swap Charles Darwin for Jane Austen on the stg£10 note in 2017.

But, unfortunately, that’s not where Criado-Perez’s story ends. Her campaign has attracted the unwanted attention of online accounts threatening her with rape, sexual violence and even death for her feminist activism.

Twitter needs to get tough on trolls

Much of this harassment has been directed at Criado-Perez’s Twitter account, from other Twitter users. In response, Criado-Perez and her supporters have called on the micro-blogging network to crack down on abusers hiding behind avatars and 140-character missives.

Another online petition has been generated – currently gaining on 60,000 signatures – this time addressing Twitter and calling for a ‘Report Abuse’ button alongside tweets, to make it easier for victims to report their abusers.

Adding their support, the UK Labour party’s shadow minister for women Yvette Cooper has written the head of Twitter in the UK asking that stronger action be taken and fellow Labour MP Stella Creasy wrote a piece in the Observer condemning the attacks and calling for action from Twitter.

The petition site claims that Criado-Perez’s attempt to contact Mark S Luckie, manager of journalism and news on Twitter, only resulted in his making his account private. He has since switched back to a public account, explaining, “I was singled out by a group in the UK over Twitter’s policies around abuse (an area in which I don’t directly work).”

The general manager for Twitter UK Tony Wang has also responded via Twitter, saying, “We’re testing ways to simplify reporting, eg, within a tweet by using the ‘Report Tweet’ button in our iPhone app and on mobile web.”

As Wang mentions, Twitter’s iOS app currently has a button to report abuse, but this alert is not yet afforded users on other platforms. Until this functionality is rolled out, users must seek out the correct forms online to report abuse and the process is certainly not as simple as the one-click approach now proposed.

Police enquiries lead to one arrest

The UK’s Metropolitan Police is reportedly conducting enquiries into the abusive comments directed at Criado-Perez over the past few days. One man, a 21-year-old, has been arrested in the Manchester area “on suspicion of harassment offences”, a Scotland Yard spokesperson told Sky News on Sunday. “The arrest is in connection with an allegation of malicious communications received by officers in Camden on Thursday, July 25,” he added.

It has been said that Criado-Perez has received 50 to 60 abusive comments an hour since the unveiling of the new stg£10 note. She has taken it upon herself to retweet the vicious comments directed at her in order to make other users aware of those accounts behind the abuse, and has also coined the hashtag #shoutingback.

Though this may have led to more abuse, Criado-Perez also says it has also elicited much support.

“It was really really disturbing to find that something as small as asking for one woman on a banknote could result in such a barrage of threats of sexual violence. It’s just not acceptable and more than that it’s actually a crime and Twitter needs to take it seriously and the police need to take it seriously,” she told Sky News.

As the abuse continues, the Guardian reports that attempts are being made to organise a boycott of the social media platform on 4 August to highlight the issue.

Elaine Burke is the editor of Silicon Republic