Twitter’s ‘report abuse’ button impacts on the good guys
After long remaining distanced from the free speech debate, Twitter has introduced an in-tweet button that allows users to report abusive posts. The move comes after a man was arrested for sending feminist campaigner Caroline Criado-Perez a barrage of hostile, threatening tweets.
Criado-Perez succeeded in her campaign to have a woman put on a British bank note, but in the process was met with a tirade of tweets brandishing threats of rape and murder, sparking Twitter-wide debate over the merits of a ‘report abuse’ button. Twitter has now introduced such a feature, but critics claim it will prove ineffectual in deterring trolls.
Shadow Foreign and Commonwealth Minister for Human Rights Kerry McCarthy, who herself has faced abuse online for blogging and tweeting has voiced her concerns on the issue, noting that, “I think this button is likely to be abused by people who will click it just because they don’t agree with what someone is saying or their opinion”.
Indeed, shortly after the introduction of the button accounts such as @transphobes – which raises awareness of the violent threats trans women and men face online via retweets – was suspended. Similar accounts have also reported issues.
As Dr Brooke Magnanti writes in The Telegraph:
Whether [@transphobes] was targeted by a concerted campaign of opponents or automatically suspended without being reviewed by Twitter is unclear. It certainly raises the question: how easy is it to mistake awareness-raising for bigotry? And what does it say when Twitter bans an account for retweeting things it otherwise is not acting to stop?
Twitter’s report abuse button is, to be sure, progress; the network is taking its first committed steps against trolling, but playing “whack-a-mole” – as Dr Magnanti calls it – with online abusers is not yet a strong enough action to deter them, and will likely hurt good guys in the process.