Twitter continues to be toxic for women in 2020

Twitter continues to be toxic for women in 2020
  • Women continue to receive death and rape threats online, leading to psychological issues like stress, anxiety and panic attacks.
  • Another effect of online abuse against women is the virtual silencing of women from posting their opinions.
  • Twitter says that it offers tools like unfollow, block, report and more, but their reactionary nature means that abuse against women is not prevented, only controlled.
There’s no escaping social media, and especially Twitter. And it can be a great tool to express and understand opinions. However, for women, using Twitter and other social media websites often comes at a cost – that includes trolling, threats, attacks and harassment.

Often, women tend to ignore this toxicity by simply blocking and reporting abusive users, but that should not be the case in 2020.

While Twitter has repeatedly assured that the safety of women online is its priority, many women users continue to believe that it is failing in its responsibility. And it’s not just regular women who are at the receiving end of online abuse. The online lynch mob doesn’t spare even public figures and women politicians.

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In a way, Twitter’s dereliction of its responsibilities has emboldened these trolls to continue with their ways.

Amnesty International, which considers online abuse against women a human rights issue, has released several reports over the last few years to shed light on how toxic Twitter is for women.


What does online abuse against women include?

Online abuse against women ranges from innocuous troll messages to death and rape threats. In many cases, a single abusive tweet against a woman can snowball into a barrage of hateful messages and threats within a short span of time.

Of the women surveyed by Amnesty, 58% said that they experienced racism, sexism, homophobia or transphobia. And, 26% of women who faced abuse said that their personal details were shared online.

“The internet can be a frightening and toxic place for women. It’s no secret that misogyny and abuse are thriving on social media platforms, but this poll shows just how damaging the consequences of online abuse are for the women who are targeted,” said Azmina Dhrodia, Amnesty International’s Researcher on Technology and Human Rights.

Unsurprisingly,Amnesty’s report also reveals that more than half of online abuse against women comes from complete strangers, thanks to the anonymity that social media offers.

The impact of online abuse – stress, anxiety, panic attacks

As per Amnesty report, 55% of women said they experienced stress, anxiety and panic attacks as a result of online abuse. Over 60% reported that this has resulted in loss of self-confidence, while 56% said they couldn’t concentrate because of this.

“The psychological impact of reading through someone’s really graphic thoughts about raping and murdering you is not necessarily acknowledged,” said Laura Bates, founder of the Everyday Sexism Project that chronicles experiences of women who have experienced abuse in some form.

Silencing the voices

A direct consequence of women facing abuse online is the chilling effect it has on the victims. According to the report, 32% of women said they stopped posting their opinion on certain topics.

“The abuse definitely makes me pause before I weigh in on anything. It makes me fear for my family,” said Pamela Merritt, an activist.

Online mob doesn’t spare even female politicians

Amnesty’s latest report reveals another startling fact – the online mob doesn’t spare even female politicians. This includes politicians across party lines, suggesting that the problem is very deep-rooted.

“Being a Muslim woman sometimes becomes a huge burden. I am subjected to so much hate than a Muslim man. Only 25% of what I get is based on the content of my politics, 75-80% is about being a woman and a Muslim woman,” said Shazia Ilmi, a BJP leader.

“When you are on social media, you face trolls, threats, abuses and challenges 100% of the time. Their purpose is to silence you. It makes you want to cry. They talk about your personal life, your looks, and your family,” said Alka Lamba, a Congress MLA.

In response, Twitter said that its users can use tools like unfollow, block, mute, report and more to combat abuse, but their reactionary nature means that abuse against women is not prevented, only controlled. It is clear that Twitter needs to do a lot more to safeguard its women users online.

Update: Twitter has issued the following statement to Business Insider

"Abuse, harassment and hateful conduct have no place on Twitter and we have taken strong steps to proactively address the health of the conversation on our service - including around peak moments such as Loksabha 2019. Today more than 50% of abusive content that we take action on is identified proactively using technology, instead of relying on reports from people using Twitter. Our work will never be done, and our product, policy and engineering teams continue to work at scale and pace to build a healthier Twitter."

See also:

Indian government and Facebook to spread awareness on online abuse via comics and videos

London mayor Sadiq Khan ripped into big tech over fake news, online abuse, and regulatory arbitrage

A writer who spent years following people whose lives were ruined by Twitter says online abuse is why the site is shrinking