Twitter is failing to protect reproductive rights activists from online violence and abuse, according to a new survey from Amnesty International USA.
According to the survey, many leading reproductive rights activists have faced increased harassment on Twitter since the May 2 leak of the Supreme Court’s draft opinion in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the legal case that overturned Roe v. Wade and ended the constitutional right to abortion in the United States.
“Twitter must do more to protect activists fighting for reproductive rights, especially at such a critical moment,” said Michael Kleinman, Director of Technology and Human Rights at Amnesty International USA. “Over the last few years, Amnesty and others have repeatedly called on Twitter to do more to address online violence and abuse. Yet as these survey results show, if anything, the problem is only growing worse.”
Of the seventeen activists surveyed, all have used the platform to discuss issues related to reproductive rights since May 2. Ten of these activists (59%) have experienced an increase in abusive and hateful speech on Twitter over that time. Of those, six tried to report the abusive and hateful speech to Twitter – yet all six reported that Twitter had taken no action to try and address the situation.
This kind of online violence and abuse has a direct impact on how activists use the platform and Twitter’s lack of proper action creates a dangerous chilling effect. Some activists reported that, in response to online violence and abuse, they used the platform less and share less information, while others reported that they carefully limit who they interact with on the platform.
“It is deplorable that activists risk being targeted on Twitter just at the moment when we most need them to speak out,” said Tarah Demant, Interim National Director of Programs, Advocacy, and Government Affairs at Amnesty International USA. “Without action, Twitter’s continued tolerance of hateful and abusive speech will make it virtually impossible for activists to use the platform effectively, having devastating effects on society.”
All social media platforms face issues with online violence and abuse, yet the problem is particularly acute on Twitter. Sixteen of the seventeen activists surveyed reported that they used other social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and TikTok, yet ten of these sixteen (63%) report that they thought there was more hateful and abusive speech on Twitter compared to these other platforms.
“There is a glaring discrepancy between Twitter’s ideals and reality,” added Kleinman. “Instead of a global public square where all voices are heard, Twitter’s lack of action when it comes to online violence and abuse means that often, the most marginalized voices are targeted. The company must do better.”
In 2018, Amnesty International released Toxic Twitter: Violence and abuse against women online, a report exposing the scale, nature and impact of violence and abuse directed towards women in the USA and UK on Twitter. The report found that the platform had failed to uphold its responsibility to protect women’s rights online by failing to adequately investigate and respond to reports of violence and abuse in a transparent manner, leading many women to silence or censor themselves on the platform.
In September 2020, Amnesty International published its first Twitter Scorecard that tracked Twitter’s global progress in addressing abusive speech against ten indicators, covering transparency, reporting mechanisms, the abuse report review process, and enhanced privacy and security features. Of the ten recommendations outlined in the report, Twitter had fully implemented only one. Amnesty International released a second Twitter Scorecard in December 2021, which found that, one year later, Twitter had made only limited progress.
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