Twitter can be a scary place for women. Amnesty International’s research shows that women who use the platform are frequently subjected to sexist, racist and homophobic abuse – and they don’t feel like Twitter is on their side.
Earlier in March, Twitter’s CEO Jack Dorsey made a public plea for help to clean up the platform, and claimed to “stand with women around the world to make their voices heard”.
We’ve spoken to more than 80 women across the UK and US for their thoughts on Twitter, because we want to make sure women’s voices are heard too. Since Jack Dorsey claims to be listening, here are 10 things women want Twitter to know.
1. Online abuse can be truly terrifying - It makes women fear for their physical safety.
Laura Bates, founder of the Everyday Sexism Project: “I found it difficult not to be scared about my safety initially. The psychological impact of reading through someone’s really graphic thoughts about raping and murdering you is not necessarily acknowledged. You could be sitting at home in your living room, outside of working hours, and suddenly someone is able to send you an incredibly graphic rape threat right into the palm of your hand.”
2. Abuse is often directed at specific facets of women’s identities. Women of colour, LGBT women or those with disabilities, receive specific kinds of abuse.
Miski Noor, US activist: “There are people who always focus on ‘you’re an immigrant, and you’re queer, and you’re trans, and you’re Muslim, or you’re disabled’. They know that we hold these identities and they are actively trying to destroy folks.”
3. Women who “make their voice heard” on Twitter often become targets of abuse.
Nosheen Iqbal, UK journalist: “On Twitter, the general abuse I receive comes after I write opinion pieces. Expressing an opinion or a strong opinion will get you roasted online.”
4. The psychological impact of online abuse can be devastating.
Zoe Quinn, game developer: “Every single aspect of my life was impacted by the abuse. People [online] pushed me really hard to kill myself. My partner at the time didn’t leave my side for more than a few hours. For the first few days I couldn’t eat or sleep or drink water. All I could do was watch everything collapse around me. It was and it still is hard to get closer to new people [after going through that].”
5. Women in the public sphere are worried about what message it sends to young girls when they see powerful women being abused with impunity.
Nicola Sturgeon MSP, First Minister of Scotland: “What makes me angry when I read that kind of abuse about me is that I worry that it’s putting the next generation of young women off politics. So, I feel a responsibility to challenge it, not so much on my own behalf, but on behalf of young women out there who are looking at what people say about me and thinking, ‘I don’t want to ever be in that position.’
6. Online abuse has a serious impact on freedom of speech. Women are censoring what they post about.
Diane Abbott, UK politician: “[Online abuse] is not free speech, it’s actually limiting everyone else’s free speech, because in my experience there are many women, and many women of colour who don’t participate online in the way that they would want to, because they’re really repelled by the level of abuse you get.”
7. Women can experience a steady and rapid flow of abuse on Twitter
Jessica Valenti, US journalist: “[The abuse on Twitter feels like a constant stream. It 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 released, my tax information released as well as my phone number released.
8. Twitter seems to interpret its rules inconsistently and may not even respond to abuse at all.
Laura Bates: “In my experience of reporting accounts to Twitter, there’s a safety gap in terms of how their terms and conditions — which are quite vaguely worded — are interpreted. When I reported things to Twitter, it very rarely resulted in anybody being suspended.”
9. But women want to be on Twitter. It’s not as easy as logging off.
Imani Gandy, US activist: “I’ve found Twitter to be a really good platform for people who normally don’t have as much of a say in the political process. I’m talking primarily young people of colour, because there is a reason that ‘Black Twitter’ is a thing. It has been a really powerful thing that black people have been able to come together to reach out to other black people across the country. Whether it’s about the latest episode of Scandal or Black Lives Matter – Twitter has really become a powerful organizing tool.
10. Twitter needs to act now.
Miski Noor: “Twitter needs to hone in on their responsibilities and their values. I’m tired of tech companies or social media companies thinking they are exempt from living their values. If Twitter values women and femmes, if they value our safety, then they need to have practices that they actually develop and implement in real ways that will protect us.”