Taking on the Twitter trolls

One of the strengths of social media is the ability to interact with anyone, from famous musicians to unknown bloggers on the other side of the world. But the World Wide Web, with its easy flow of dialogue, can mirror problems faced offline, such as abuse and threatening behaviour.

This summer, after bomb and rape threats brought cybersexism into Britain’s headlines, Twitter introduced a button through which users can swiftly report abuse. A petition calling for the measure gained more than 130,000 signatures.

After several high profile women were targeted through the platform, including journalists and campaigners, the boss of Twitter UK made a public apology.

A Twitter boycott was held on Sunday 4 August and joined by many of the women who had been threatened, along with supporters of the cause.

But activist and journalist Caroline Criado-Perez, who had been threatened with rape, decided not to join the #Twittersilence, or #trolliday as it was also known. Criado-Perez received a torrent of abuse after a successful campaign to get a woman on British £10 notes. She tweeted that she had chosen to #shoutback instead of stay silent.

Many feminists chose to use the hashtag #inspiringwomen on the same day, in order to highlight those they admired for taking a stand.

Criado-Perez has since deactivated her account after fresh threats of rape, complaining of police incompetence.

Although in developing countries 16 per cent fewer women than men use the internet (globally this is a 4 per cent gap), use is increasing across the world, especially via mobile phones. Brazil, China, India, Indonesia and Mexico have more daily social media traffic than any country except the US. As the use of social media and the internet grows cybersexism around the world could become a bigger problem.

The issue of online abuse is not new and not just something faced by feminist women. But it seems that there is now a groundswell of feeling around the world that cybersexism is out of control. While abuse buttons are unlikely to stop it happening, people are coming together to fight back whether through boycott protests or shouting back against misogyny.

Photo by Garrett Heath, under a Creative Commons License.