London: The historian Mary Beard has become the latest woman to receive a tweeted bomb threat, sent on the eve of a boycott by many of Twitter in protest at its slow response to dealing with violent and obscene threats.
Although many stayed off the site, the hashtags #Twittersilence and #connectwithrespect were trending, with many comments like David Howell’s: “Time spent enjoying @wmarybeard on twitter is time well spend. Time saved by ignoring idiots is time well saved,” and others pointing out that both women and men have been the victims of vitriolic abuse.
The Labour MP Stella Creasy, who has received rape threats, tweeted: “Take a day off twitter, spend the day tweeting kitten pics point is you can decide your actions not the trolls.”
On Saturday, after a week of escalating protests over Twitter’s response to the threats, Tony Wang, Twitter’s UK general manager, and Del Harvey, director of trust and safety, posted a promise of action on the Twitter UK blog, including instant report buttons for abuse which will gradually be introduced on different platforms. Wang also posted a series of tweets promising action.
For many women, it was too little too late.
On Saturday night, the classicist and television presenter Beard, the object of previous vicious personal abuse, received a bomb threat — similar in tone to those received earlier by the Guardian columnist Hadley Freeman and others on Wednesday — which she reported to the police.
She told the BBC: “To be honest, I didn’t actually intellectually feel I was in danger but I thought I was being harassed and I thought I was being harassed in a particularly unpleasant way.”
The Guardian columnist, Suzanne Moore, explained why she was joining the boycott: “In cyberspace, as in the real world, they will not prevail. The boycott is a bunch of people going quietly Travis Bickle. We “ain’t gonna take it any more”. Join us or don’t. The boycott has already worked. Because Twitter, the company, is nervy and watching its back. Hello? That’s how it feels when strangers abuse you en masse.”
Predictably, others disagreed, some forcefully. The author and playwright Bonnie Greer posted: “#twittersilence is well-meaning, but most folks in this world have no voice. Talk for them. Talk the trolls out. Talk for ourselves. #nosilence”.
The archaeologist and television presenter Tony Pollard wrote: “#twittersilence? No way!. NEVER give bullies dead air it gives their fist more velocity. Talk — keep talking. that’s empowerment. Rave on!”
The journalist Liz Jarvis took a similar line: “The best way to stand up to bullies is to speak out. Which is why I’m not doing the #twittersilence. Let your voice be HEARD. #shoutback.”
However, many women, including the comedian Sarah Millican, posted just before midnight that they were joining the silence. “As I’m observing the #TwitterSilence for 24 hours, I’ll say thanks in advance to those who came to my show tmrw night. You were ace/alright.”
The columnist Caitlin Moran tweeted: “To people saying they don’t want to do the #twittersilence — that’s fine. All may do as they please. I’m just trying a thing” and on Twitlonger she amplified: “August the 4th is International Friendship Day, and, personally, I wanted to do something symbolic on that day, in the spirit of international friendship. In the last few weeks, I’ve seen women on Twitter being run to exhaustion by the volume of anonymous rape and violence tweets they’ve received — so many that even just blocking them is a full time job. I’ve seen my friends’ Twitter bomb-threats ON THE NEWS. I’ve seen the messages escalate even AFTER someone’s been arrested. AFTER. And, obviously, it’s not just women. In the wake of this, we’re now talking about the problem of online abuse towards people for their religion, race, sexuality and physicality. Essentially the problems of the most nightmare playground ever have been given a jet-pack and a megaphone through the power of social networking.”
Some, clearly, welcomed the prospect of a peaceful Sunday without the need for constant updates. The author and columnist Owen Jones wrote: “I’m on #trolliday tomorrow to stand with women facing abuse and threats. (Also it’ll help force me to write my ruddy book).”