Twitter a “toxic place for women,” says Amnesty International UK

Twitter started life with the somewhat utopian view that free speech was to be protected at all costs. 12 years later, and that aim is turning into a real albatross around the social network’s neck. Not only does it now have a real problem with white supremacists and the far right in general, it has a more deeply ingrained problem with people just being jerks. Abuse, death threats and general unpleasantness are just part of the grammar of the platform. Inaction has caused paralysis, according to one insider who memorably described it as “a honeypot for assholes”.

Now Amnesty International has weighed in, albeit in a less profane manner. After surveying more than 1,100 female Twitter users, the consensus is clear: if it’s obvious you don’t possess a Y chromosome, your life will likely be made miserable in myriad ways. Death threats, rape threats, transphobic and homophobic abuse are just par for the course as a woman on the service, Amnesty points out, making it a “toxic place for women.”

The survey found that just 9% of British females on Twitter believed the company was doing enough to stop violence and abuse against women, while 78% said that they didn’t feel they could share an opinion without being on the receiving end of abuse.

Amnesty has created a website called About Real Twitter which is encouraging people to tweet the message to the company. At the time of writing, #ToxicTwitter is trending as the fourth most popular hashtag in the UK.

“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,” said Amnesty International UK director Kate Allen. “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.”

Twitter, for its part, has responded to Amnesty’s claims by saying that it “cannot delete hatred and prejudice from society” and pointing to more than 30 changes it has made to improve safety on the platform in the last 16 months. The former is objectively true, and the latter is admirable – but Twitter can automatically block far-right content in countries where it’s illegal, and chooses not to do so globally. As long as that remains true, it’s clear that it can, and should, do more to make the platform a pleasant place to be.

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