‘Toxic’ Twitter is failing women by letting online violence thrive

March 21, 2018 HUMAN RIGHTS , Technology



Amnesty International



On the day Twitter celebrates 12 years since the first tweet, Amnesty launches campaign challenging Twitter’s failure to prevent online violence and abuse against women


Twitter is failing to keep women safe from violence and abuse, human rights NGO Amnesty International said today (21 March), as it releases new evidence proving how ‘toxic’ the platform has become for women.

In a new report, #ToxicTwitter – the result of interviews with more than 80 women, including politicians, journalists, and regular users across the UK and USA – Amnesty exposes how Twitter is failing to respect women’s rights, and warns the social media company that it must take concrete steps to improve how it identifies, addresses and prevents violence and abuse against women on the platform.

The women’s testimony details the shocking nature of violence and abuse they are receiving on Twitter, including death threats, rape threats and racist, transphobic and homophobic abuse. Public figures, MPs and journalists are often particular targets, but people who aren’t in the public eye are also experiencing abuse, especially if they speak out about issues like sexism and use campaign hashtags.


A new Amnesty survey* of more than 1,000 British women has revealed the severe lack of trust women have in Twitter’s ability to deal with the issue. The findings show:


Only 9% of British women think Twitter is doing enough to stop violence and abuse against women;

78% of British women who expressed an opinion don’t think Twitter is a place they can share their opinion without receiving violence or abuse.


Like all businesses, Twitter has a responsibility to respect human rights, including the rights to live free from discrimination and violence and to freedom of expression and opinion. Twitter’s own policies on hateful conduct prohibit violence and abuse against women, and Twitter has a reporting system in place for users to flag accounts or tweets that are in violation of this policy.

However, many women Amnesty spoke with described how they had reported multiple tweets to Twitter with very few receiving a response. One UK journalist told Amnesty that she reported 100 abusive tweets, of which Twitter removed just two. On numerous occasions, women told Amnesty how the content of abusive tweets they reported was said ‘not to be in breach of Twitter’s community standards’.


Amnesty’s report concludes that:


Twitter fails to let users know how it interprets and enforces its policies or how it trains content moderators to respond to reports of violence and abuse;

Twitter’s response to abuse is inconsistently enforced – sometimes reports of abuse are not responded to at all – meaning content stays on the platform despite violating the rules.


Kate Allen, Director of Amnesty International UK, said:


“It’s clear that Twitter has become a toxic place for women.

“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.

“Recently we’ve seen a great wave of solidarity and activism from women around the world, and social media platforms have an important role in movements like #MeToo. But women must be able to speak out without fear of violence and abuse.

“The trolls are currently winning, because despite repeated promises, Twitter is failing to do enough to stop them.

“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.”


Amnesty has documented how women of colour, women from ethnic or religious minorities, LGBTI women, non-binary individuals and women with disabilities, are targeted with specific abuse against their identities. This can have the effect of driving already marginalised voices further out of public conversations.

US journalist Imani Gandy told Amnesty: “I get harassment as a woman and I get the extra harassment because of race and being a black woman. They will call white women a ‘cnt’ and they’ll call me a ‘ngger c*nt’. Whatever identity they can pick, they will pick it and use it against you. Whatever slur they can come up with for a marginalised group – they use.”

This latest report and survey is part of a 16-month Amnesty research project** into women’s experiences on social media platforms, including the scale, nature and impact of violence and abuse directed towards women on Twitter.



Twitter’s response


Twitter said it disagreed with Amnesty’s findings. In a statement, the company said it “cannot delete hatred and prejudice from society”, and explained it had made more than 30 changes to its platform in the past 16 months to improve safety, including increasing the instances of action it takes on abusive tweets. The company repeated its refusal to share data on how it addresses reports of abuse. It said such data “is not informative” because “reporting tools are often used inappropriately”.

Amnesty acknowledges that context is important when sharing any raw data, but there is nothing to stop Twitter providing this information, and the company’s human rights responsibilities mean it has a duty to be transparent in how it deals with reports of violence and abuse.


Azmina Dhrodia, Technology and Human Rights Researcher at Amnesty, said: “Twitter has repeatedly tried to shift attention away from its own responsibilities by focusing on the wider issue of hatred and prejudice in society. We are not asking them to solve the world’s problems. We are asking them to make concrete changes that truly demonstrate that abuse against women is not welcome on Twitter.”


Miski Noor, a gender non-conforming communications strategist for the Black Lives Matter Global Network, said: “Twitter is going to have to say whether they’re for the people or they’re not. Twitter has the power to change the way women and femmes are experiencing abuse, or even if we experience abuse, on their platform. After all, they are the convenors of the space and they have the power to change our experiences.”



How Twitter can do better


The report outlines concrete recommendations for Twitter to become a safer and less toxic place for women. These include:


publicly sharing meaningful information about the nature and levels of violence and abuse against women, and how they respond to it;

improving reporting mechanisms to ensure consistent application and better response to complaints of violence and abuse;

providing more clarity about how it interprets and identifies violence and abuse on the platform, and how it handles reports of such abuse;

undertaking more proactive measures in educating users and raising awareness about security and privacy features on the platform.



Join the call to clean up #ToxicTwitter


People can join the call to tell Twitter’s CEO Jack Dorsey that he must make sure Twitter is a safe space for women and all users by enforcing its rules on hateful conduct and abuse.





*Figures from an Amnesty UK commissioned YouGov Plc. poll. Total sample size was 1,110 British Women. Fieldwork was undertaken between 14-15 March 2018. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all GB adults (aged 18+).

**The #ToxicTwitter report is the third piece of research issued by Amnesty on the topic of online violence against women since last September. In the run-up to the 2017 UK General Election, Amnesty used a machine-learning tool to analyse abusive tweets sent to female MPs. We found that this issue affects Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) women MPs far more than their white colleagues. Diane Abbott alone received almost half (45.14%) of all abusive tweets in the run up to the UK General Election. Last year, Amnesty commissioned an IPSOS MORI poll that showed how widespread online abuse of women is in the UK, with one in five women having suffered online abuse or harassment. Almost half of the women said the abuse or harassment they received was sexist or misogynistic, with a worrying 27% saying it threatened sexual or physical assault.






Amnesty International is a non-governmental organisation focused on human rights with over 7 million members and supporters around the world. The stated objective of the organisation is “to conduct research and generate action to prevent and end grave abuses of human rights, and to demand justice for those whose rights have been violated.”

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