Of the onslaught of social media abuse aimed at Caroline Criado-Perez and others over the weekend, Stella Creasy writes:
For anyone who appreciates and uses social media free speech should be inviolable. That includes ensuring abuses of that freedom do not infringe on the ability of anyone to exercise it. To challenge, call out, parody or criticise someone is to practise freedom of speech.
To threaten them with rape is not.
There is no freedom to be recognised in the sustained attacks on Caroline Criado-Perez, on Twitter, following the success of her campaign to retain women on banknotes. Women in public life – whether politicians, actresses, writers, musicians or academics – face a barrage of sexualised, misogynistic messages. Complain and the cry goes up that we should go back to the kitchen if we can’t take the heat of social media.
Twitter tell me we should simply block those who “offend us”, as though a rape threat is matter of bad manners, not criminal behaviour. When you push them, as I did, they say report it to the police who can “accurately” assess a threat, implying victims may be overreacting. New legislation passed last year gave prosecutors powers to address cyber harassment, yet this casual attitude to the safety of the majority of their users – 53% of Twitter account holders are female – show how little attention companies themselves are paying to helping end violence against women.
This behaviour is nothing to do with technology and everything to do with inequality. If Twitter didn’t exist such individuals would find another way to try to shut down the voices of those they despise. So the seriousness of this cannot be underestimated. Some tweets could be the escalation of aggression that can spill out offline. Others reflect a world in which men all too often can – and do – get to determine what matters about women. None are about sexual arousal.
Caroline Criado-Perez faced a deluge of hostile tweets over the course of more than a day, including threats to rape and kill her, after she successfully campaigned for a woman’s picture to be put on a new banknote.
A campaign in her support, calling on Twitter to introduce a button to allow speedy reporting of abuse, has already received thousands of signatures and she has received support from MPs and celebrities.
In response Tony Wang, the general manager of Twitter UK, said the company took online abuse seriously and called on people to report any “violation of the Twitter rules”.
Earlier Criado-Perez said: “It’s sadly not unusual to get this kind of abuse but I’ve never seen it get as intense or aggressive as this. It’s infuriating that the price you pay for standing up for women is 24 hours of rape threats. We are showing that by standing together we can make a real difference. We made the Bank of England change its mind; we can do the same with Twitter.”
Criado-Perez, a freelance journalist who co-founded thewomensroom.org.uk and the Week Woman blog, and fellow campaigners were delighted last week when the Bank of England confirmed that the Price and Prejudice author would replace Charles Darwin on the notes, probably in 2017.
Criado-Perez organised a campaign which included a petition signed by more than 35,500 people after the Bank of England decided to replace Elizabeth Fry with Winston Churchill on new £5 notes.
The move would have meant there were no women apart from the Queen on sterling banknotes.
Stella Creasy, the Labour MP for Walthamstow, is one of those supporting Criado-Perez.
“What Caroline has had to deal with in the past day is not only disgusting, but criminal,” she said. “A quick look at Twitter this morning shows that women are not prepared to stand by and take this kind of abuse. Twitter needs to get its house in order, and fast.”