Many Twitter users who are not straight white men have received some sort of harassment in the form of an aggressive @-reply. Activists tweeting about #BlackLivesMatter wind up with mentions clogged by racism and hate. Women receive rape and death threats for merely existing. Black women are attacked by hoards of racists for merely existing. Hate speech can easily be packaged in 140 characters or less.
Twitter’s response when certain users utilize their platform to disseminate hate and actively threaten and harass people? Pretty much nothing. Charlie Warzel at Buzzfeed News went deep into Twitter’s 10-year failure to stop harassment. From the beginning, Twitter made “free speech” a priority, and in 2011, executives started publicly declaring “Twitter is the free speech wing of the free speech party,” a quote that has been attributed to former Google attorney Alexander Macgillivray.
But while Twitter touted itself as a champion of free speech, abuse and hate speech became rampant. Dismissing online harassers as “just trolls” can lead to some scary shit. In 2013, when Caroline Criado-Perez launched a campaign to put Jane Austen’s face on U.K. currency, she started receiving about 50 rape threats per hour. After Guardian columnist Linda West wrote about the abusive comments she gets on Twitter in 2015, Dick Costolo wrote Twitter employees in a staff memo that was eventually leaked: “We suck at dealing with abuse.” No shit. Former Twitter engineering manager Leslie Miley spells out the problem rather succinctly:
The decision-makers were not people who got abuse and didn’t understand that it’s not about content, it’s about context… If Twitter had people in the room who’d been abused on the internet—meaning not just straight, white males—when they were creating the company, I can assure you the service would be different.