Twitter has a problem with abusers. This should come as a surprise to nobody if you’ve either used Twitter for any length of time, or seen a news report on how a celebrity has been “forced off Twitter”. Aggressive people who are out to hurt others have flocked to Twitter and use it to wage an unending war against anyone they have decided they hate.
Trigger warning for transphobia, hate speech and suicide. If you are likely to be affected by discussion of any of those topics, please do not read any further. Instead, please click here to see some pictures of cute kittens.
Today the hate campaign against trans people has taken a new turn by combining two of the more obnoxious and unwelcome aspects of Twitter to create a new level of low. An identity thief has taken the name and profile picture of noted feminist writer Caitlin Roper and created a fake account where they have been spouting transphobia in Caitlin’s name.
Now seeing fake accounts spouting hate is nothing new to Twitter alumni but this particular identity thief wasn’t happy with just going to the average level of acting like a scumbag, oh no. This one decided to spend money so their hate could be seen by more people.
Cue a set of promoted tweets in which the fake account was used to call for trans people to commit suicide; and for cis people to seek out and attack trans people.
Fake account and promoted tweets combined into the Voltron of assholery? That’s a new one on me. Naturally, I called for Twitter to explain how this was allowed to happen. I’ll let you know their reply when I get it, although I have a feeling that Judgement Day will come before I get any response from Twitter; they are notoriously bad at dealing with abuse as it is.
And that’s the problem. Twitter enables abusers by failing to deal with them properly, or in a reasonable timescale. GamerGate still has free reign on Twitter. Transphobes, homophobes, racists, misogynists and a whole range of other abusers are able to attack without a care in the world, because even if Twitter does act and deal with them, it’s in the form of a blocked account.
At best that’s a slap on the wrist to these people, at worst it’s their end goal. A banned account is a medal they can pin to their wall to say they got the response they set out to get. Then it’s on to the next fake account, created using and linked to a new, throwaway email address. Meanwhile, the damage they’ve caused to their victims is done and there’s nobody there to clean up the mess.
So what can Twitter do to stop these people, or at the very least make it far more difficult for them to cause the widespread harm they love so much? Well for a start, it needs to ramp up its abuse report department. It needs to actually start taking these reports seriously, and working with local law enforcement agencies where the abusers have broken the law.
Hate speech and/or harassment of this kind are illegal in many countries now and Twitter keeps a lot of information about who is behind each tweet. It’s time they started sharing that information with the police more readily, instead of waiting for the abusers to stumble across someone who is prepared to push back hard enough to get the police to take notice in the first place.
Secondly, Twitter needs to start reading what people submit to it as promoted tweets. If there was someone there at Twitter who had to have final say over whether thousands of people have promoted tweets dumped into their timelines, I have no doubt that these abusive tweets would not have gone out to anyone. In fact, I have no doubt that the account used to send them would have been banned right there and then, before it could do any harm.
The fact that these tweets did go out tells me there’s nobody at the helm of Twitter’s promoted tweets; it’s just pay your money and watch your words fly. That’s not good enough.
Twitter isn’t a small website anymore. It’s time it started acting like the curator of a large community that it actually is. If it doesn’t, it’s not going to take many more examples of abject irresponsibility like this for it to completely destroy its own reputation.