Twitter Combats Sexual Harassment

There is a fine line between free speech and harassment; unfortunately, Twitter is a space where that line is often crossed. This past August, Twitter CEO Dick Costolo did an open Question and Answer session asking users to submit their questions with the hashtag #askcostolo. This failed attempt at transparency resulted in Costolo’s criticism of Twitter’s lax policy towards sexual harassment, homophobia, racism and bullying.

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Twitter has since taken small measures to diminish bullying and harassment. It banned any photos of James Foley’s death and because Robin William’s daughter was bombarded with cruel images following his death, Twitter also “committed to delete any images of the deceased, upon the family’s request.”

Finally, Twitter has taken its first proactive step towards combating one of its greatest problems, sexual harassment, by pairing up with Women, Action & Media (WAM), a nonprofit, and creating a tool that will, “allow people to report abuse and harassment on Twitter and get the issue resolved within 24 hours.” WAM is also committed to assisting Twitter change their feeble policies towards harassment.  According to WAM’s press release, “A recent Pew research study found that fully 25 percent of young women online have been sexually harassed online and 26 percent have experienced stalking. What’s more, Pew found that women overall are disproportionately targeted by the most severe forms of online abuse.”

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It is almost unfathomable that so much hate-speech, sexism and bitter vitriol can exist in a 140-character tweet. For example, a female gamer tweeted, “To reiterate: The whole gaming industry must take a stand against these attacks on women in gaming. Silence is no longer an option,” and received rape threats, death threats and responses called her “an ugly bitch” and “a male-hating cunt” for three months.

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Unfortunately, WAM has many challenges ahead of it. Content monitoring is time consuming and often ineffective. It is all too easy for cyber bullies to create a new Twitter account the second their previous account is banned. In addition, WAM has no jurisdiction over Twitter and ultimately, has no control over their action.

Have you ever, or do you know someone who experienced any harassment on Social Media (Twitter, Tinder, Facebook etc…)?  What do you think is the best way to combat harassment? Do you believe the law needs to catch up with technology and create laws to prevent online harassment? What are your digital safety concerns?

– Coco Limberakis


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