Twitter’s sexist hypocrisy can no longer be ignored

Twitter allows online abuse against women, punishing those who attempt to hold men and the company to account.

Twitter founders: Jack Dorsey, Evan Williams, Christopher “Biz” Stone, Noah Glass

Last week, Amnesty International released the findings of their “Troll Patrol Project” — “a joint effort by human rights researchers, technical experts, and thousands of online volunteers to build the world’s largest crowd-sourced dataset of online abuse against women.” The study determined that Twitter is a “toxic” place for women, finding that, in surveying tweets received by 778 female journalists and politicians from the UK and US throughout 2017, 1.1 million “abusive or problematic tweets” were sent over the course of the year, equalling one every 30 seconds on average. “Abusive tweets” were defined as “content that violates Twitter’s own rules,” including tweets that “promote violence against or threaten people based on their race, ethnicity, national origin, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, religious affiliation, age, disability, or serious disease.”

Oddly, considering that women are so commonly the targets of “abusive tweets,” the category of “sex” is not included among Twitter’s protected categories. Though Amnesty’s study findings fail to mention this glaring hole in Twitter’s claimed attempts to discourage abuse on their platform, the company’s decision to omit “sex” from this list should demonstrate the insincerity in Twitter’s intentions, and the fact that addressing misogyny is not a priority for the company.

The Amnesty study goes on to say that examples of abusive tweets “include physical or sexual threats, wishes for the physical harm or death, reference to violent events, behaviour that incites fear or repeated slurs, epithets, racist and sexist tropes, or other content that degrades someone.”

I have highlighted the numerous, explicit violent threats I have received on Twitter in the past, and pointed out many times over that the company repeatedly declined to address these threats. I have been told to “shut up and die,” to “choke,” to “commit suicide,” and so on and so forth. All of these tweets, which seem to very clearly fit within the definition of “abusive tweets,” were lobbed my way attached to the word “TERF,” which, as most of you know, is a term used to smear and denigrate those who question transgender ideology. Indeed, it is a term primarily aimed at women, only used in the pejorative, with the intentional purpose of bullying the target and damaging their reputation. That is to say, it inarguably fits the definition of a slur.

But instead of working to address the threats aimed at women who attempt to ask questions about or criticize violent trans activism and the ideas underpinning that activism (namely, the notion males are female the moment they declare themselves so or that males who identify as transgender should have access to women’s change rooms, sports teams, or transition houses), Twitter has instead targeted those women.

Amnesty reports that Twitter “is failing in its responsibility to respect women’s rights online by failing to adequately investigate and respond to reports of violence and abuse in a transparent manner which leads many women to silence or censor themselves on the platform.” They conclude:

“Companies like Twitter have a responsibility to respect human rights, which means ensuring that women using the platform are able to express themselves freely and without fear.”

Instead, Twitter is doing the opposite.

When I was permanently suspended from Twitter on November 23rd, it was not for “hate speech.” It was because one individual did not want me to have a voice. Certainly he did not want me to “express myself freely and without fear.” As a journalist and a person who is fighting to create a better, more just world, I have a penchant for the truth and for reporting facts. Particularly about men I consider to be dangerous, who attempt to harm or bully women, who don’t respect women’s boundaries, or who are actively working to remove their rights. As such, after media coverage reported on a male who was suing local estheticians who declined to give him a “Brazilian bikini wax,” and a blogger revealed his identity, alongside some unsavory history, I wanted to know if the information was true. I tweeted the link to the blog post, asking, “Is it true that the man responsible for trying to extort money from estheticians who refuse to give him a brazilian bikini wax is [link to Twitter handle]?” When provided with a screen shot confirming the man’s identity — an online review of a business called “Foxy Box,” which this individual had left, under his own name, with a photo of himself attached, saying, “Ally was great doing my Brazilian wax!” — I tweeted the image and wrote, “Yeeeah it’s him.” Two weeks later, Twitter permanently suspended my account, referencing only that last tweet.

Many have assumed I was banned for violating Twitter’s new Terms of Service, which include rules against “misgendering” (referring to males as male and females as female, regardless of their transgender identity) and “deadnaming” (referencing a person’s name, despite the fact they now prefer to go by another name). But at the time I posted the tweet in question, not only had Twitter not informed their users of this change to their Terms of Service, but the individual in question was still using his male name, not only on Twitter, but on most of his other social media accounts (and continues to do so). The change to Twitter’s Terms of Service was made public, coincidentally (or not), the same day I was banned. Beyond the fact that correctly referencing a person’s sex is not harmful in any way whatsoever (in fact, incorrectly identifying a person’s sex would be incredibly dangerous, if a health practitioner were to do so, for example), but this person does not even “identify” as female on Twitter.

The true reason for my Twitter ban was revealed earlier this month, by the individual responsible, who bragged, at a Township of Langley Council meeting, “I personally got her Twitter account suspended.”

 

Considering he appears to be a personal friend of Twitter co-founder, Biz Stone (or would like the public to believe he is), the fact that this one individual was able to have a woman permanently banned from the platform makes a little more sense. I had suspected this had been the case — that is to say, that this individual was responsible, and that it was on account of him having one or more personal contacts at Twitter. But this reality presents a dark truth to women: Twitter is a boys club. A boys club that protects its friends above its users, even if those friends present a potential threat to women. Indeed, the company’s Terms of Service seem to exist to protect their own, and as a means to censor and silence those who speak the truth in ways they don’t like. Women who are working to hold men accountable and companies like Twitter accountable are swiftly punished, whereas men’s violent or misogynist behaviour is ignored.

Amnesty is correct in its assessment: Twitter is not only failing to be transparent in terms of their own practices and standards, but they are actively ensuring women are silenced and censored on the platform. We have allowed a small minority of powerful men to control our speech — men who do not take violence and misogyny seriously, and have, to date, been able to operate with impunity. We can no longer deny this truth, and it is time to fight back.

Join us in Washington the week of January 26, where women will gather to send clear message to social media companies like Twitter that we not be silenced and we will stand up!

Meghan Murphy
Meghan Murphy

Founder & Editor

Meghan Murphy is a freelance writer and journalist. She has been podcasting and writing about feminism since 2010 and has published work in numerous national and international publications, including The Spectator, UnHerd, the CBC, New Statesman, Vice, Al Jazeera, The Globe and Mail, and more. Meghan completed a Masters degree in the department of Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies at Simon Fraser University in 2012 and lives in Vancouver, B.C. with her dog.

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