Micro-blogging service Twitter has been forced to go on the defensive in response to user uproar over the inability to easily report abuse, after a feminist campaigner was targeted with rape threats on the site.
Caroline Criado-Perez, reportedly received hundreds of rape threats via Twitter last week after her campaign to have Jane Austen become the face of the UK's £10 note was successful. Yesterday Scotland Yard confirmed that a 21-year-old man in the Manchester area had been detained on suspicion of harassment offences.
Criado-Perez said she had received "about 50 abusive tweets an hour for about 12 hours", adding that she had "stumbled into a nest of men who co-ordinate attacks on women" on the day of the £10 note announcement.
No I'm not Mother Theresa; I never claimed to be. But no-one deserves 12 hours of rape threats. No-one. So disgusted right now.— CarolineCriado-Perez (@CCriadoPerez) July 27, 2013
Twitter's UK general manager Tony Wang responded to comments that the firm's response had been inadequate by highlighting Twitter's pre-existing user reporting tools.
"We don't comment on individual accounts, but we have rules which people agree to abide by when they sign up to Twitter," he tweeted. "Also, we're testing ways to simplify reporting, e.g. within a Tweet by using the "Report Tweet" button in our iPhone app and on mobile web. We will suspend accounts that, once reported to us, are found to be in breach of our rules."
He added that users could already notify Twitter of threatening behaviour on pre-existing abuse reporting forms.
We take online abuse seriously and provide advice and guidance to our users here: https://t.co/4SMKjeGTAG— Tony Wang (@TonyW) July 27, 2013
Diane Abbott, shadow public health minister, wrote: "I understand @TonyW is general manager of UK Twitter. So why is he not doing anything about horrific abuse tweeted at @CCriadoPerez?". Labour MP for Worsley and Eccles South Barbara Keeley also called for Wang to take further steps: "Understand that @TonyW thinks @CCriadoPerez should fill in a form every time she gets rape/death threat. Time for him to act."
A petition asking twitter to add ‘report abuse' buttons to tweets has received 55,000 signatures at the time of writing, with others suggesting that users should boycot Twitter on 4 August.
Meanwhile, Twitter's manager of journalism and news Mark Luckie was forced to suspend his account after users reportedly unleashed their frustrations onto him.
"Last night I was singled out by a group in the UK over Twitter's policies around abuse (an area in which I don't directly work)," he wrote. "The comments I received turned abusive and I temporarily protected my account."
When V3 asked Twitter about ‘report abuse' buttons for individual tweets, the firm said: "The ability to report individual Tweets for abuse is currently available on Twitter for iPhone, and we plan to bring this function to other platforms, including Android and the web."
Twitter could not give a timescale for this, however. It also said that it would not comment on individual cases when asked about Criado-Perez' reported abuse.
It is not the first time Twitter has found itself coming in the firing line from MPs, with the site coming in for criticism during the riots of 2011 in London, with many claiming it helped fuel unrest by allowing messages to be spread with ease.
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