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Twits On Twitter

The big story of the last week has to be the amount of abuse that has been flying around on Twitter. I’ve heard of several cases, from a Treyarch employee harassed by Call Of Duty players over minor frame changes to a virtual sniper rifle, to One Direction fans sending bomb threats to GQ magazine over an interview with the band that apparently misrepresented them (even though many of those fans discovered the article because the band themselves linked to it…), but I’m going to focus on the biggest one.

Let me start by saying that I love Twitter. It’s a fantastic place where people can poke their heads in, make a quick joke or help promote something cool. It’s a place for quick discussion with people. It’s a place to share and interact and a whole bunch of other wonderful things and I’m sorry I didn’t realise how great a site it was when I first heard about it.

But it has a darker side. Because it’s open to everyone, it’s naturally very easy for people to use it in less savoury ways, giving them a platform to send abusive messages to people they disagree with. What’s worse is that there isn’t a way to report the people that do this, and this is what leads to the vast amount of abuse we’re steadily beginning to see.

So, the major case I want to talk about involved freelance journalist and feminist campaigner Caroline Criado-Perez (above) receiving threats of rape and murder. Apparently she “deserved” this, according to those sending thethreats. Her crime? Starting an ultimately successful campaign to get a woman prominently featured on a banknote. That’s it.

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, we have a woman whose sole crime was to try and put a famous female face on a £10 note getting sent aggressive messages. Gosh, I didn’t realise how horrific it was to do something like that. Here’s me thinking it was a largely minor issue. Oh, silly me, apparently it’s because women need to shut up and learn their place, that women are incapable of achieving things great enough to justify their presence on a banknote. Even more ridiculously, the chain continued when other women decided to stand up for her, and then subsequently received death threats of their own.

MP Stella Creasey is a prominent example

OK. I’m a man. I have always been a man and/or boy depending on your perspective. And yet despite never having been female, I have absolutely no objection to women expressing themselves, achieving great things and receiving appropriate praise for achieving those things. I have no idea why your genitalia supposedly defines what you can and can’t do. Well, aside from birthing children, since only women are capable of that, but that’s basic biology. Beyond that, do whatever you want as long as it doesn’t severely hurt others. That’s a reasonable philosophy, right?



In reaction to this, various feminists and supporters of feminist issues decided to go silent on Twitter for a day to send a message to Twitter that a Report Abuse button needs to be added and that they aren’t willing to stand for this treatment. A noble goal on paper, but surely going silent in response to a bunch of man-children demanding you stay silent is kind of counterproductive? I get why it was done, and Caitlin Moran (who organised it) is an absolutely fantastic lady, but I couldn’t help but be bothered by it somewhat.

A much greater response came from the “#inspiringwomen” hashtag, which aimed to highlight female achievement. This seemed much more effective because it sparked a debate, and showed the “repulsive, lonely, shrivel-cocked creeps” (as Stephen Fry delightfully called them) that women’s place isn’t in the kitchen, it’s right alongside the men in advancing and improving the world and making it a better place for all of us.

Without the achievements of great women, we wouldn’t understand DNA (Rosalind Franklin) or radiation (Marie Curie), we wouldn’t have wi-fi (Hedy Lamarr) or even computers (Ada Lovelace), the Civil Rights Movement wouldn’t have kicked off (Rosa Parks), nursing schools probably wouldn’t exist (Florence Nightingale) and, of course, the Allies couldn’t possibly have won World War II were it not for the tireless efforts of the women in the factories and doing the code-breaking while the men were off shooting each other.

She just discovered the building blocks of life, what did you do this morning?

It pretty much proved that the best response to this widespread abuse is to counter the abuse, to raise discussion, to show that women deserve to be recognised just as much as men, and to generally show the abusers that they are sad little people who will never achieve anything.

Any boy who claims that women are beneath him is a terrible person (although this does go both ways…). I really do not understand this fear of women. Why is it such a bad thing for women to express themselves? Why is it such a crime for a woman to achieve something? Why are these small-minded children so offended by a woman being her own person that they feel the need to belittle and demean her so heavily?

Personally, I want to be in the company of great people, regardless of their gender. If a woman is funny, intelligent and hard-working, she deserves to be recognised as those things, and not in a “you’re funny for a girl” kind of way, because that’s just crap. I know plenty of great women who inspire me just as much as any great man, and I’m increasingly baffled whenever I see boys kicking up a fuss just because someone has both a vagina and an opinion.

In addition, I’m a little annoyed by seeing the word “trolls” turn in the media to describe the people throwing this abuse around. It’s like aging journalists discovered a fancy bit of Net Slang and are desperate to look hip and down with the kids, when in fact they are wrong. These “trolls” are arseholes, and should be called out as such. Trolls are pranksters, and rape threats are not pranks, they are serious. Here is an excellent video by vlogger Ellen Rose on the matter.

And here’s her helpful diagram

I’m also hearing the calls to curb these abusive comments as threatening free speech. Abuse is not free speech. Telling someone you disagree with their opinion in a polite manner is free speech. Threatening to rape them because you disagree with them is abuse. You could get arrested for threatening to rape someone while passing them on the street, so the rules should apply to making those same threats to a person over the Internet.

I actively support the efforts of Caroline Criado-Perez to fight back against the man-children who think “vagina = incapable”. I support raising awareness of great women through history to be held up as role models for young girls. I encourage Twitter to add a Report Abuse button to silence those who would threaten someone for expressing an opinion. And most of all, I am all for smart, funny women achieving their life goals and being put on equal footing with the smart, funny men of the world, without the need to judge them on their gender. It’s 2013, we should be beyond this right now.

So basically, fellow men, can you just stop being arseholes to women simply because they’re women? You’re making yourselves and the rest of us decent menfolk look bad. And no one wants that.

  1. August 6, 2013 at 6:27 pm

    Call them abusers, losers, shrivel-cocked creeps or trolls – I have sure seen a lot of twits on twitter! I can not claim to understand any of this hatred towards women and I do not understand why some people are just plain mean on Twitter; I am just glad that there are decent menfolk, like you, out there in the Twitterverse!

    Thank you for your level-headed response to #twittersilence, today! Twits on Twitter is a good read; I will share and recommend it.

    – Jennifer Steel, Burnaby, BC, CANADA

    • August 7, 2013 at 11:31 pm

      I like to try and be a rational voice when everything else is going crazy. Doesn’t always work, but at least this time I hit the mark!

      Thanks for the comment, and thanks for sharing it around! It’s much appreciated!

  2. August 8, 2013 at 3:48 am

    My God, I completely agree with you. I will never be able to comprehend the feeble minded mentality behind these sorts of aggressors. Whenever a woman is wronged in some way, or, conversely, noted for an achievement, there always seems to be a hoard of angry, insolent drones to berate her. It’s bad enough that if you mention women’s rights it gets a general roll of the eyes and exasperated sigh by the majority of men, and those who don’t despise it tend to avoid it. It’s nice to finally see a well spoken individual from the other side of the gender divide say something!

    I must also say it drives me insane when women’s issues are brought up (such as rape, abortion, etc.) and you get droves of infuriated men saying “What about men?!” and “Women aren’t saints, either.” It’s ridiculously unproductive and just gives off a disdainful air of feeling undermined and left out. Maybe most men are too used to getting the credit for everything?

    At any rate, I’m glad you wrote this, and I’m glad you noted the women who made many modern luxuries possible! After studying in science, I slowly became ever so aware of the lack of women being mentioned, even though I KNEW they were out there. You here all about Newton and Darwin, but never about Marie Curie or Rosalind Franklin! As a closing remark, I will never be able to understand people who think rape related things are funny/acceptable, and that the best thing to do is ignore these people? I don’t know about you, but I refuse to sit idly by while there are people being allowed to threaten to rape and murder others!

  1. September 30, 2013 at 5:26 pm

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