Update: Twitter users are also able to report threatening tweets through the support.twitter.com website on any platform.
Users can go to “Safety and Security,” click on “Abusive Behavior” and report a violation by filling out a report that allows the user to describe the threats, as well as the time and date the threats were sent.
TORONTO – “Rape threats are not free speech; they are criminal acts.”
That statement, tweeted by feminist campaigner Caroline Criado-Perez on Monday, sums up the point that Criado-Perez and her supporters have been trying to make since she began receiving droves of threatening tweets last week.
Criado-Perez says she began receiving rape and death threats via Twitter shortly after her successful campaign to get a woman’s picture on a U.K. bank note ended with the announcement that Jane Austen’s image would appear on England’s ten pound notes.
But despite a 21-year-old man being arrested in connection to some of the threats on Sunday, the abuse has seemingly escalated since her battle began making headlines.
By Wednesday Criado-Perez was still actively tweeting screen captures of tweets containing disturbing and explicit rape threats, along with death threats and tweets telling her to “kill herself.”
— CarolineCriado-Perez (@CCriadoPerez) July 30, 2013
One user even tweeted a U.K. address and phone number saying it belonged to Criado-Perez – which the campaigner said was not her address. Shortly after another user tweeted, “A car bomb will go off outside your house at 11:40 p.m.,” urging her not to call the police.
Criado-Perez mentions numerous times on her account that she is documenting and reporting every threat to the police; however, she has criticized Twitter for not making it easier for users to report tweets.
Currently, Twitter does not have a “report abuse” button for individual tweets on its web-based version – the feature is only available on the Twitter for iPhone app.
On the app-based version, the user has the option to flag the tweet as “abusive” and requires the user to fill out a form. On the web-based version, users are only able to block or report a user for spam – there is no option to flag the user for abusive comments.
In a statement to Global News, Twitter wrote, “We don’t comment on individual accounts. 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.”
A spokesperson for Twitter also noted that the company plans to bring the same “report abuse” functionality to other platforms, including the web-based application.
Criado-Perez’s experience has set off a campaign and petition to press Twitter to take more action to combat online threats.
Social media expert Jaigris Hodson believes that Twitter should take a page out of Facebook’s book when it comes to user-based reporting systems.
“I feel like these social networks are a little bit accountable, because they are asking us to share a lot of information about ourselves,” said Hodson.
“Twitter isn’t the worst offender for the sharing – obviously something like Facebook has us share a lot more, but they are being really good about having a report button that allows you to report anything you find offensive.”
Facebook allows users to report individual posts or photos and allows the user to note if the post is being reported because of harassment.
“But in order to make that work they actually hire countless people behind the scenes to go through every request, so that they can make sure that they are acting on the ones that are serious and that it’s not just people trolling through these buttons,” Hodson explained.
“Twitter has a problem in that, if it wants to be serious about dealing with these requests it will need to spend a fair amount of money to act on them.”
But Hodson cautions that there are still many obstacles that social networks face that make it difficult to crack down entirely on harassment online.
“The way the Internet is set up, it’s very easy for people to still be anonymous and work across boundaries – someone in one country can send a rape threat to someone in another country and that makes it extremely difficult to go farther than just removing someone from a social network,” Hodson told Global News.
“If people are removed from the social network there is very little stopping them from signing up under another name.”
Criado-Perez has been careful to clarify on her Twitter account that this very public battle she is fighting against those who are trolling her is not an issue of feminism, but an issue with the way threats and hate speech are used online.
In an effort to thwart some of her cyber-attackers, Criado-Perez has been retweeting threats from users, as well as replying to some of the users, using the hashtag #shoutingback.
Hodson believes that while some social media users may be more inclined to threaten other users over the web because of the feeling of anonymity, she also notes that some take the right to free speech too far in expressing wishes of rape, or murder.
“We have this interesting culture with respect to the Internet which suggests that free speak trumps everything and that it’s always for the greater good. Now I’m not one to argue free speech at all – but in our offline institutions, like say journalism, there are also practices and standards by which we know is a good practice of free speech and another form can be libel, or something worse,” said Hodson.
“We have not developed the same practices and standards with respect to how people post online.”
Hodson suggests that social media sites should be responsible for coming up with an ethical code of sorts – separate from the individual user agreements that users have to agree to before signing up for a social network.
“There are those who argue that we need to accept everything because its free speech, but then there are people like myself and Caroline who say no – we don’t have to accept things that are libelous, illegal, or threatening. That’s not why free speech was set up,” said Hodson.
© Shaw Media, 2013