Oh, Twitter, how I love you and hate you. On the one hand, Twitter can be a powerful grassroots organizing tool, a personalized media aggregator, a way to meet and interact with friends and colleagues, and of course one of the world’s most effective distributors of cute cat pics and fart jokes.
On the other, it can empower harassers — from individual stalkers to virtual mobs — and provide a way-too-easy way to send anonymous threats.
And unfortunately, Twitter hasn’t made much of an effort to deal with its abusive users. It can take days, weeks, sometimes months for the site’s harassment cops to do anything about persistent harassers, and all too often the suspended harassers pick themselves up, dust themselves off, and go right back to harassing their enemies with brand-new accounts — a blatant violation of Twitter’s rules that seems to be very seldom punished.
But there’s some good news on this front. Twitter is teaming up with Women, Action and the Media (WAM), a small feminist nonprofit, in a pilot program designed to fight this kind of harassment. WAM! has some experience here; this is the group that pressured Facebook into taking hate speech more seriously.
Those subjected to gendered harassment on Twitter can now report the harassment through WAM’s own form, designed to be more flexible and less cumbersome than Twitter’s balky harassment reporting system; WAM staffers will review the complaints and expedite them, enabling Twitter to deal with serious and persistent harassers much more quickly. WAM staffers won’t be able to ban abusers directly, but they can essentially bump cases to the front of the line.
WAM will also be collecting data both on the harassment reports they get on their site and on Twitter’s handling of the cases WAM sends to them.
As the group explains
We’re using this pilot project to learn about what kind of gendered harassment is happening on Twitter, how that harassment intersects with other kinds of harassment (racist, transphobic, etc.), and which kinds of cases Twitter is prepared (and less prepared) to respond to. We’ll then work with Twitter to improve their responses to the harassment of women on their platform.
If you’re wondering why WAM is doing the gruntwork here, instead of Twitter itself, well, the WAMmers are wondering about that, too. While glad that Twitter has agreed to the project, WAM Executive Director Jaclyn Friedman told the Daily Beast that ” Twitter is making a lot of money and they should be putting the resources into this. We should not have to do this project … .”
Hopefully this project will mark the beginning of the end to Twitter’s culture of harassment-without-consequences.