London: Twitter is failing to take down graphic images of suspected rape and abuse that violate its own community standards, the chair of parliament’s home affairs select committee has said. The Labour MP Yvette Cooper, who founded the Reclaim the internet campaign on online abuse, has written to Twitter asking it to explain its methodology and timescales for removing graphic pictures and sexually explicit messages. Cooper said the company was doing “too little, too slowly” even after tweets were reported.
The letter, co-signed by Sam Smethers, chief executive of the Fawcett Society, asks Twitter to provide details of the average time taken to investigate reports and take down tweets, as well as what action is being taken to speed up removals. It also asks how many staff the website employs actively looking for abusive content, and for more detail on its policy on the removal of tweets and suspension of accounts.
Images of apparent rape and of a woman in a sexually explicit pose while bound on a bed have appeared on the site, though the accounts were suspended shortly after Cooper and the Fawcett Society flagged the tweets. Threats to female MPs and public figures had also been reported and remained visible more than a week later, according to data collated by the MP’s team, including racist and sexist abuse of the shadow home secretary, Diane Abbott, antisemitic abuse of the Labour MP Luciana Berger, threats against the anti-Brexit campaigner Gina Miller and obscene abuse of the late Labour MP Jo Cox, who was murdered by a far-right terrorist.
The Crown Prosecution Service has announced plans to treat online hate crime as seriously as offences carried out face to face. Official figures show a 20 per cent rise in hate crime reported to the police in the first quarter of this year. “Twitter plays a really important role in breaking news, stimulating debate, raising public awareness of major events and allowing people simply to keep in touch with friends and family,” Cooper said. “But that’s why it’s so important that this is a platform that isn’t poisoned by abuse, violent threats and intimidation.
“Twitter claims to stop hate speech but they just don’t do it in practice. Vile racist, misogynist and threatening abuse gets reported to them but they are too slow to act, so they just keep giving a platform to hatred and extremism. It’s disgraceful and irresponsible.”
Smethers said women who used the site were being “routinely and regularly abused online with impunity for the abusers”. The move by the CPS to treat online abuse as seriously as offline abuse would not halt the flow of misogynistic comments because they were not categorised as a hate crime, Smethers said. “The action announced does not address the widespread misogynistic abuse that women have to put up with every day,” she said. “It is time that we recognised that misogyny is hate crime.”