Last week I watched the news and felt really inspired. It was a really exciting week for women everywhere: Belfast City Marathon announced its first ever female pacer to make her debut in May 2014; the first feature film to be made in Saudi Arabia was released in mainstream cinema – an achievement in itself – but, excitingly, it was written and directed by a woman, Haifaa Al Mansour. Then a triumph in the City: following a campaign led by feminist and writer, Caroline Criado-Perez, the Bank of England announced author Jane Austen’s image would appear on their £10 notes as of 2017. Female faces are vastly under-represented on banknotes here in the UK and apart from Florence Nightingale and Elizabeth Fry, Austen will be the 3rd woman, other than the Queen, to grace the note since the bank introduced historical figures other than Monarchs on banknotes in 1970.
Remember that sentiment of inspiration I mentioned at the start of this post? Well it became unsettled and fast. Shortly after the Jane Austen triumph in amongst the congratulatory tweets Criado-Perez received came a steady stream of alarming messages escalating to threats of murder and sexual violence at a rate of 50 threats per hour. The nature of the tweets ranged from name calling to men posting what they thought was her address for others to carry out acts of extreme sexual violence.
No one wants to read messages where complete strangers threaten to carry out criminal activity against them but as Criado-Perez discovered, getting such threats to cease could be very problematic. While it is possible to report individuals to Twitter the process can be somewhat arduous and isn’t really designed to help users who need to report more than one person at a time. Let’s bear in mind Criado-Perez was receiving threats at a rate of 50 per hour – that equates to 1,200 abusive tweets in a 24 hour period and a minimum of 8,400 between the threats beginning and now.
So to give you the abridged version Criado-Perez approached Twitter for help and requested they install a ‘Report Abuse’ button to help ease an already difficult process but was – along with her 23,296 followers, myself included – astounded by their response. Twitter UK initially refused to act upon the threats made against her because it would be against freedom of expression. The response from Twitter’s Head of Journalism was to block Criado-Perez. Not very mature and certainly not indicative of a journalist presented with a story!
The debate rages on although it’s now on the television, on the bus and at the dinner table of countless houses around the UK and, perhaps, beyond. Should Caroline Criado-Perez just pipe down? I mean, she hasn’t actually been sexually assaulted…yet. And that is the key word here – yet. Everyone has the right to freedom of expression. However, when that expression involves making threats of physical or sexual assault it becomes criminal. So next time you tweet feel free to be a dick but beware: being a dick in your tweet and inferring you are going to use your dick against the will of another person are two very different things and in the case of the latter, you should expect to be prosecuted.
If you feel as strongly about this issue as I do please take a moment to look at this petition on change.org and consider adding your name to the 112,000 men and women who believe it is Twitter’s responsibility to police users of its site making threats of criminal activity against other users. http://www.change.org/en-GB/petitions/twitter-add-a-report-abuse-button-to-tweets
This is bigger than ‘simply’ a feminist issue now. Never be afraid to carry on the conversation, stand proud and shout back. You have just as much right to as the next person.