Social media giants must take more drastic steps to tackle online abuse, according to a senior female MP frequently targeted by trolls.
Shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott said her staff spend a “considerable amount of time” blocking or removing “highly offensive and misogynist” abuse directed at her on Twitter and called on platform bosses to act “a lot quicker” to shut down problem accounts.
The call comes as an Amnesty International study into online abuse revealed that a woman is attacked on Twitter every 30 seconds.
Abbott said: “I never had this scale of abuse when I first came into politics and racism was an issue then as now, but it’s the anonymity and the ease of Twitter which has put racists into overdrive.”
She pointed out that online racism was being reflected in media and politics, “not in the same visceral way, but I think that it finds an echo in mainstream coverage and that’s very troubling”.
Former shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper tweeted her agreement with Abbott on Tuesday, calling on Twitter to step up.
Labour MP Luciana Berger this week tweeted screenshots of numerous anti-Semitic messages she had received after voicing her position on a vote of no confidence in PM Theresa May.
The report found black women were disproportionately targeted, being 84% more likely than white women to be mentioned in abusive or “problematic” tweets. One-in-10 tweets mentioning black women was abusive or problematic, compared to one-in-15 for white women.
It also revealed that 7.1% of tweets to women in the study contained abusive or problematic language.
The study, conducted with Element AI – a global artificial intelligence software product company – surveyed 778 women.
Volunteers for the project analysed 228,000 tweets sent during 2017 to 778 female politicians and journalists from across the political spectrum in the UK and US.
They found that about one in every 14 of them contained abusive or problematic language – content that either promoted violence against specific groups or was hurtful or hostile.
Previous research by Amnesty revealed Abbott received almost half (45.1%) of all the abusive tweets sent to female MPs ahead of last year’s general election.
In addition to general derogatory comments, she regularly received racist abuse, death threats and rape threats, she said.
Kate Allen, Amnesty UK’s director, said: “It’s clear that a staggering level of violence and abuse against women exists on Twitter. These results back up what women have long been saying – that Twitter is endemic with racism, misogyny and homophobia.
“The online space is an important platform for political and public conversation, and women must feel safe to express themselves and engage in debate without fear of abuse.
“Twitter is failing to be transparent about the extent of the problem, but if our volunteers can gather meaningful data about online violence and abuse, so can Twitter. The company must take concrete steps to properly protect women’s rights on the platform.”
Amnesty UK said it had shared its findings with Twitter, which had requested clarification on problematic content “in accordance with the need to protect free expression and ensure policies are clearly and narrowly drafted”.
Vijaya Gadde, legal, policy and trust & safety global lead for the company, said: “Twitter has publicly committed to improving the collective health, openness, and civility of public conversation on our service.
“Twitter’s health is measured by how we help encourage more healthy debate, conversations, and critical thinking. Conversely, abuse, malicious automation, and manipulation detract from the health of Twitter.
“We are committed to holding ourselves publicly accountable towards progress in this regard.”