The horrific abuse I see aimed at women on twitter makes me ashamed to be a man. Seeing these vile messages as well as reports from friends about what is said to them in the streets everyday has opened my eyes to what happens to women elsewhere. There is a huge problem in society with sexist abuse and rape threats which is made particularly obvious on twitter. The problem is amplified because twitter is a massive global platform such that one person can be attacked through thousands of tweets for hours on end. Even so, I think twitter just makes the already-present abuse visible for all to see.

Abuse can be reported to twitter by email but it’s useless in the face of an onslaught of thousands of rape threats. I’m not convinced that a report abuse button is any more practical than attempting to reply to the abuse is though. People already misuse the report spam button to attack people who they disagree with or who call them out and make them angry. Accounts representing oppressed minorities get suspended all the time because people click report spam when they don’t like the message.

I’ve seen friends get suspended for annoying people by being women, or black, or trans, or gay, or disabled, and I’ve seen friends drown in threats of rape and violence and demands that they kill themselves – going on for days at a time after just one unfavourable mention by a celebrity.

So what is the solution? I don’t know. It’s complicated. The answer is not “just block them” as so many clueless people advocate. When the abuse is relentless and from hundreds of people there is no escape by that route. The answer is probably not a report abuse button. Twitter do provide information on reporting abuse in the Twitter Help Center but it is fairly tedious and is not practical to report everyone involved when under attack from many people. A button could speed things up but would face the same abuse as the report spam button and even then might not be practical for handling a lot of people at once. If such a scheme were to be implemented then twitter must make sure that it would not itself be used to attack people.

The answer certainly isn’t to charge for twitter, as suggested by some journalists. Charging would exclude millions of people who live in poverty both in rich and in poor countries. It would exclude a great many sick and disabled people who rely on twitter to keep them in touch with friends. Asking twitter to charge comes from a position of pure privilege.

Society needs to change. Men need to understand that it is unacceptable to throw sexual demands at women in the street or to tell them on twitter that they are going to rape them. It is not acceptable to stand by and let this happen either. Us men who do understand this need to speak out and tell those others that this behaviour must stop.


Twitter Help Center: Reporting Abusive Behavior

The Everyday Sexism Project – Many examples of unacceptable abuse.

Some examples of tweets aimed at Caroline Criado-Perez following her campaign to keep women on banknotes: