Saturday 27 July 2013 Rape threats on Twitter won't get women to shut up. If we shout back we'll win
Caroline Criado-Perez took on the Bank of England and succeeded, so she won't let a few internet trolls knock her down
Wednesday felt like a brilliant day for women and a brilliant day for people power. After a three-month campaign, that began after I saw a news story about historical women being wiped off banknotes, the Bank of England finally capitulated. Mark Carney announced that not only would Jane Austen be the face of the new tenner, but that a review process would be instituted to ensure that banknotes reflected the diversity of society. I was overwhelmed. We had taken on a huge institution, a bastion of white male power and privilege, and we had won. I looked forward to future banknotes featuring Mary Seacole and Rosalind Franklin. I looked forward to these notes very publicly: on TV; on radio; and in the papers.
And it seems some people didn’t like that. Among the streams of positive and supportive responses, this one cropped up: “this Perez one just needs a good smashing up the arse and she’ll be fine”. And that was just the beginning. Soon, I was overwhelmed in a very different way.
“Everyone jump on the rape train > @CCriadoPerez is conductor”; “Ain’t no brakes where we’re going”; “Wouldn’t mind tying this bitch to my stove. Hey sweetheart, give me a shout when you’re ready to be put in your place”; “So looking forward to titty fucking you later tonight”, wrote a variety of Twitter users.
These are all tweets from men. Men who don’t like women speaking up. Men who don’t like women appearing in public. I was told by numerous people just to ignore them. After all, we don’t feed the trolls, do we? But we had just taken on the Bank of England and won. I wasn’t going to be silenced by these men. I wasn’t going to give them what they wanted. So I started shouting back. And as I did, amid the tidal wave of abuse, a small stream - which gradually turned into a river, and then a flood of supportive tweets - started to appear. These supportive tweets have now taken over. I can’t begin to keep up with them. Someone has set up a petition asking Twitter to put a “report abuse” button on every tweet; it has gained over 11,000 signatures in less than a day. And people are speaking out; more than this, the trolls themselves are now locking their own accounts. What does this say? It says that we don’t have to put up with this. Trolls don’t run the internet; neither do abusive men who issue rape threats to get women to shut up. We are the majority. And if we stand firm, and shout back as one, we will win. I hope you’ll join me in shouting back.
Twitter faces boycott after 'inaction' over rape threats against feminist bank notes campaigner Caroline Criado-Perez.
Ms Criado-Perez played prominent role in ensuring that Jane Austen would feature on the new £10 note
The popular social networking site Twitter is facing a major backlash over claims it is failing to deal with threats of sexual abuse made on its site.
A host of MPs and other leading public figures have threatened a boycott after a feminist campaigner highlighted numerous threats of rape and other violent acts being sent to her on Twitter. Caroline Criado-Perez, who finally won her fight to have prominent women represented on Britain’s bank notes this week, claimed that her complaints to the site have been ignored.
A petition was soon set up demanding more robust action from the site and attracted more than 6,000 signatures within three hours. That figure had passed the 11,000 mark this afternoon.
“It is a problem involving a certain type of man who can’t cope with a woman being vocal and being in the public eye. They deal with it by shutting women up with threats of sexual violence. It is nothing new, it has been going on for millennia; this is just its most recent incarnation,” said Ms Criado-Perez.
The campaign of hatred against her began during her bank note fight. Ms Criado-Perez, who also runs the Women’s Room campaign to promote women in the media, played a pivotal role in ensuring that Jane Austen would feature on the £10 note.
And she said that, once the decision was announced by new Governor of the Bank of England Mark Carney, the abuse escalated and began to attract the attention of fellow Twitter users. She reported it to the police and claims that she tried to alert Twitter’s manager of journalism & news Mark Luckie. But his response appeared to be to simply set his account to private, making his updates invisible to most users. Ms Criado-Perez said she is still awaiting a substantive response.
She added: “The internet makes it very easy to make this sort of threat, and sites that don’t make it easy to report abuse like this make men like those who have been threatening me feel like there will be no comeback. I told some of them they would not get away with it and they just laughed; at the moment, they are right.
“There has been a deafening silence from Twitter. The accounts of the men who said those things are still active. There needs to be a massive culture shift at Twitter.”
A host of people threatened to boycott Twitter on 4 August in protest at its perceived inaction. Journalist Caitlin Moran wrote: “We could all leave on August 4th - International Friendship Day, kind of apt.” And, referring to the act of posting provocative messages online – known as “trolling” - she added: “[We should] tweet the holding message ‘Waiting for a troll solution.’”
She received support from actress Rebecca Front and comedian Dara Ó Briain, among others. But some pointed out that the abuse meted out to Ms Criado-Perez went beyond simple trolling and constituted a serious criminal offence.
MPs Stella Creasy, Yvette Cooper, Diane Abbott and John Woodcock all expressed disgust at the abuse. Ms Creasy said: “What Caroline has had to deal with in the past day is not only disgusting, but criminal. A quick look at Twitter this morning shows that women are not prepared to stand by and take this kind of abuse. Twitter needs to get its house in order, and fast.”
John Coventry, spokesman for Change.org - which is hosting the petition to have a more effective reporting system installed – said: “Caroline’s shown already this week with the Bank of England that campaigning works - it will be fascinating to see how Twitter responds - thousands signing a petition in one morning is a significant backlash.”
Kim Graham, who started the petition, said: “I couldn’t believe what I was reading yesterday. Caroline’s campaign was phenomenal and now she’s facing a relentless barrage of violent threats. I set up this Change.org petition because Twitter must take some responsibility for this.”
A Twitter spokesman refused to comment on an individual account. The spokesman added: “However, we have rules which people agree to abide by when they sign up to Twitter. We will suspend accounts that once reported to us, are found to be in breach of our rules. We encourage users to report an account for violation of the Twitter rules by using one of our report forms.”
The site has always maintained that it exists to offer an open platform for free expression but it does have a record of suspending users who use Twitter to abuse others.
Jane Merrick wrote: “The most interesting aspect of this announcement is that it illustrates the growing power of petitions. Governor Mark Carney, revealed the Bank of England's decision after a popular campaign for a woman – other than the Queen, of course – to remain on an English banknote (after the Elizabeth Fry £5 is phased out), with a petition posted on Change.org….It is no coincidence that many of these petitions on Change.org and on the global campaign network Avaaz.org are launched by, or are about issues affecting, women. As I write, Caroline Criado-Perez, the woman behind the banknote petition, is being deluged by Twitter trolls with threats of rape. This is unacceptable. But the reaction should not, and will not, stop other campaigners – helped by good people on social media – using petitions as an effective alternative to joining a political party, with much quicker results.”