In a recent discussion on the phenomenon of big data Jim Messina, David Cameron’s new election assistant makes an interesting admission. He points out that during the 2008 Presidential election campaign only one Tweet was sent as Twitter and Facebook were still relatively small platforms.
It seems almost laughable thinking about it now. Facebook has 61 8 million active users, whilst Twitter has 200 million regular users in figures publicised in The Daily Telegraph in March this year.
So they really are the behemoths of the social media landscape. And well done to them. But this week has been a low point in Twitter’s history in particular.
The chain of events began when Caroline Criado-Perez achieved victory in her campaign to put a woman on British banknotes. Soon after taking office the new Bank of England Governor Mark Carney announced that Jane Austen would replace Charles Darwin as the face of the £10 note from 2018.
Very cruelly though Caroline wasn’t allowed to bask in her victory for too long as the ugly side of Twitter emerged. In her own article here you can see just how disgusting the original threats were.
In the days following, the trolls continued, trolling the timelines of Stella Creasy MP and Claire Perry MP and also sending bomb threats to several female journalists.
The positive news is, the police have acted and swift arrests have been made, with more I am sure to follow.
The head of Twitter in the UK Tony Wang has apologised to users for what he called “threats which were simply not acceptable.”
Today however a bomb threat has been sent to Professor Mary Beard, a classicist at the University of Cambridge
So in light of recent events, I feel pretty angry at Twitter. I feel pretty angry too at the people who have made these vicious and vile threats under pseudonyms from the relative safety of a computer screen.
Alongside other women, there have been many discussions around how best to register to respond and keep the issue in the limelight for as long as possible. In the end the feminist campaigner and journalist Caitlin Moran came up with the idea of a trolliday, an ingenious neologism borne out of the word holiday. The idea of trolliday was that women would not Tweet yesterday for 24 hours in protest at the recent threats and misogyny directed at women. After all there are people located behind this strange swirl of hashtags and 140 character dialogues. Where there are people there are feelings and many people’s feelings have been hurt over the course of the week.
The essential message which I hope trolliday conveyed is nothing to do with buckets and spades, ice cream or a suntan, although all of those things are infinitely pleasurable.
I have seen nothing that has convinced me that any of the men this week has a valid grievance against women. All I have seen is genuine hatred of, and directed towards women by men
The positive good side of social media is of course that barriers are eliminated. The fact I can’t walk doesn’t matter on social media. My followers don’t judge me by my ability to run the London Marathon. They judge me by their interest in my tweets. It has been really good to meet a whole bunch of like-minded people via Twitter. It is because there are so many positives around the use of social media that the negatives are even more accentuated.
I took the decision to take part in trolliday because I do not want the kind of Twitter where women feel unsafe, and where they feel reluctant to express themselves for fear of misogynistic, prehistoric and puerile reprisals. Threatening a woman with rape, or threatening to bomb their house is not cool. If I could ask these trolls one thing it would be this. How would you feel if it was your relative, your mother or your grandmother who was targeted? Saying they wouldn’t care because they’re not feminists is not a good enough argument. I bet if they were sufficiently scared and frightened you would go to their house as fast as possible and protect them and reassure them.
Just because people in public life like MPs and journalists may seem remote and at a distance it does not mean that humankind should not afford us courtesy and compassion. We are people, and we have feelings too. I love Twitter for its argumentative and discursive nature. I may disagree with people but I never ever hurt them intentionally, and rape threats and bomb threats are something I could never in 1 million years envisage making to fellow human beings.
I’m silent today on Twitter not because I’m scared or afraid of Twitter. I’m silent because I want a better Twitter and a safer one, although not one lacking in robustness or personality.
In a discussion on LBC 97.3 last night with presenter Olly Mann, amongst other things he posited the question to me of why I felt Twitter needed to apologise. He playing devil’s advocate I think suggested that Twitter was only a platform and it was up to users to take concerns to the police.
I put it to him though that Twitter also has responsibilities to its users and that the corporation need to be seen to be caring. Twitter are culpable. It’s their platform. They need to show they will come down hard on those who disregard its rules with impunity. The laissez-faire approach to social media hasn’t worked. We need a better Twitter. At first they seemed remote, slow cold and distant. Now with the apology from Tony Wang they seem to be getting the message.
Another caller said that if people couldn’t deal with Twitter, they should get back to the kitchen. Twitter should not be an endurance test. Rape threats are not something anyone should have to deal with in any arena, let alone from strangers at high volume over a sustained, merciless period.
I said that Twitter needs to show it cares.I was silent yesterday to show the affected women I care about them too.