- A new report from Amnesty International has revealed the sheer scale of online abuse faced by female politicians and journalists.
- 7.1% of tweets sent to women in the study were “problematic” or “abusive.”
- Black women were at particularly high risk of being targeted.
- Twitter recently released updated policies about how the company enforces its rules, but artificial intelligence says it’s not enough.
If you turn to the woman sitting nearest to you and ask her if she’s experienced harassment or abuse on the internet, she’ll probably say “yes.”
A new report from Amnesty International, called “Troll Patrol,” has revealed the “sheer scale and nature of online abuse faced by women,” by using artificial intelligence to crawl through millions of tweets sent to 778 journalists and politicians from the US and UK in 2017.
The main findings were that 7.1% of tweets sent to women in the study were “problematic” or “abusive,” which amounts to 1.1 million tweets across the year, or one every 30 seconds. Women of colour were 34% more likely to receive an abusive or problematic tweet than white women, and black women were at the highest risk, with an 84% higher chance than white women to be targeted.
Women’s political leanings weren’t particularly relevant, as politicians and journalists with both liberal and conservative views received similar levels of online harassment and abuse.
“Online abuse against women on this scale should not and does not have to exist on social media platforms,” the report says. “Companies like Twitter have a responsibility to respect human rights, which means ensuring that women using the platform are able to express themselves freely and without fear.”
The human rights organisation has repeatedly asked Twitter to combat its abuse problem, the report adds, and the hope is the latest project will “shed some insight into the scale of the problem.”
The report is the latest step in two years of work towards combating online abuse, following an online poll of women in 8 countries about their experiences of abuse on social media platforms in November 2017, and the report “Toxic Twitter: Violence and abuse against women online” which was released in March.
Twitter released an updated “Transparency Report” this month, which included one of Amnesty International’s recommendations to Twitter — a section on “rules enforcement,” which provides information about how and when the company enforces content policies.
For example, an account may have to remove a tweet, be temporarily unable to send tweets, or be removed from the platform completely if it behaves in a way to wish or hope serious harm on to a person or group of people, threaten to expose private information, or be aggressive or sexual without consent.
However, Amnesty International doesn’t believe the Transparency Report goes far enough, and calls the policies “disappointing.” The Troll Patrol report states there are only two categories — abuse and hateful conduct — meaning there is little opportunity to learn about how to respond to different types of online harassment, as targetted abuse can often be more subtle than hurling expletives.
There also isn’t any information about how long it takes moderators to respond to reports of abuse, or how many people are employed per region to police the problem.
Volunteers at Amnesty International analysed 14.5 million tweets in total. These were the main findings:
- 6.7% of tweets received by white women in the sample were problematic or abusive.
- Latina women got less abuse than white women, but were 81% more likely to be threatened with physical violence compared to white women.
- Asian women were the most likely to be mentioned in tweets containing ethnic, racial, and religious slurs.
- Abuse received by mixed race women included sexism, racism, and physical and sexual threats.
- Black women received the most abuse, with 60% more problematic tweets and 84% more abusive tweets than white women.
- One in every 14 mentions to female journalists was problematic or abusive.
- 7.12% of tweets sent to female politicians were problematic or abusive.
In April, Business Insider reporters Shona Ghosh and Adam Payne commissioned research that found how ethnic minority politicians receive disproportionate amounts of abuse on Twitter compared to their white colleagues.
All politicians expect to receive abuse at some point, but the data showed ethnic minority MPs receive 15% more than their white counterparts.
At the time, Diane Abbott — the shadow home secretary who is one of the most-abused MPs on Twitter — said it was no surprise that MPs from ethnic minorities receive a disproportionately high level of abuse.
“This abuse reflects the trend in society which has seen an increase in hate speech and hate-crime,” she told Business Insider. “The big social media companies also have a role to play in curbing hate speech, and not just against MPs. Everyone deserves the protection of the law, and police need the resources from Government to tackle this problem.”
Twitter responded to Business Insider with a statement that said many policy and product changes have been launched with the aim of making the platform safer, but their challenge is a difficult one.
“The content on Twitter often reflects the views that exist within society — both the good and the bad,” a spokesman said.