Yvette Cooper MP, Labour’s Shadow Home Secretary and Shadow Minister for Women and Equalities, has today written to the UK head of Twitter following the online abuse of a journalist campaigning for Jane Austen to appear on British banknotes.
Text of the letter:
Dear Mr Wang,
I was deeply concerned by the handling of serious and violent threats of abuse and rape against Twitter users Caroline Criado-Perez (@CCriadoPerez).
For more than 48 hours, Caroline was targeted repeatedly with abusive messages and threats including:
“this Perez one just needs a good smashing up the arse and she’ll be fine”
“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”
I am sure you will agree this is disgraceful, appalling and unacceptable in any communication, including Twitter. As you will be aware threatening to rape someone is a crime, and targeted persecution is an offence under the harassment act.
Yet despite the scale and seriousness of these threats, the official response from Twitter continues to be extremely weak – simply directing Caroline away from twitter towards the police, and, belatedly, directing users to abuse reporting forms on Twitter.
Of course it is right to report such abuse to the police, and it is very important that they investigate and pursue this case.
But social media platforms also have a responsibility for the platform they give users. And in particular they have a responsibility not to tolerate this kind of abuse, rape threats and potentially criminal behaviour.
As you will recognise there is a world of difference between the strong debates that always take place on social media platforms and the violent threats or persecution towards Caroline.
Worryingly, a very quick search on Twitter reveals more examples of abusive violent language and threats, directed at women and girls.
You will appreciate that the scale of sexual violence across the UK is disturbingly high. Last year alone half a million women were victims of sexual abuse.
Tolerating threats or the aggressive promotion of this kind of violence is completely unacceptable – it creates greater insecurity for women and greater indifference towards sexual violence too.
The response by Twitter has clearly been inadequate and fails not only Caroline, but many more women and girls who have faced similar abuse on your social network.
More than 20,000 people have already signed an online petition asking Twitter to allow users to report abuse directly with one click.
I urge you to go further and ensure that Twitter carries out a full review of all its policies on abusive behaviour, threats and crimes, including more help for Twitter users who experience abuse, a clear complaints process and clear action from Twitter to tackle this kind of persecution.
I would welcome further discussion with Twitter about the action you are able to take.
Shadow Home Secretary and Shadow Minister for Women and Equalities