Twitter, hate, harm, and misinformation

Angry Twitter troll types on his laptop on the coach.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the ambient misogyny and racism (and more) that floats around my Twitter communities. It’s ambient in the sense that it’s pervasive, and also that we don’t have to follow an antagonist to see their tweets or have them engage us directly.

It’s an ecology of violence. And misinformation.

Amnesty International did a 16 month study and found that Twitter is a toxic place for women, and especially women in other intersections like LGBTQ, disabled, Black, and other racialized minority communities.1

The perpetrators of this violence are, by and large and in the long run white men.2 3 4

What I like about the Amnesty International report is that they make clear that violence and abuse of women on Twitter is a human rights problem.

“But for many women, Twitter is a platform where violence and abuse against them flourishes, often with little accountability. As a company, Twitter is failing in its responsibility to respect women’s rights online by inadequately investigating and responding to reports of violence and abuse in a transparent manner.”

Amnesty International

Amnesty makes it clear that harm that happens on Twitter is a problem that Twitter should be dealing with. I appreciate this because the dominant and incorrect frame is that trolling, and violence, is a private issue that should be dealt with privately. That’s part of the problem. We need a systemic, policy-level approach to trolls.

We need, at the very least, a community approach.

Also, for the record, the word “troll” is ambiguous. It’s uses sometimes to refer to funny, clever, or disagreeable accounts. But “troll” is also used to refer to extremists and other kinds of harmful accounts. This ambiguity provides PR cover for the latter meaning, so I tend to avoid using it. The problem is that the term is widespread.5

Interviews by Anil Dash

Anyway, I found this episode of Function, with Anil Dash, very interesting.

“Anil explores the lasting effects of harassment with writer and activist, Feminista Jones, and how Amnesty International is working to shine a light on the issue with Director of Gender, Sexuality, and Identity, Tarah Demant.”

The Oxygen of Amplification: Better practices for reporting on extremists, antagonists, and manipulators online

I find myself referring back to this report often.

Oxygen of amplification report cover.
Oxygen of amplificaiton (PDF)
  1. Read more about the methodology of this study. Watch the Youtube.
  2. Read, for example, The Twitter Presidency, Donald J. Trump and the Politics of White Rage, 2020
  3. Researcher and writer, Ginger Gorman, did a major investigation and wrote a book, Troll Hunting: Inside the World of Online Hate and its Human Fallout. She interviewed trolls: “As a rule, they attack anyone who they view as outside the paradigm of being a white male.”
  4. See also this article about the emergence of white trolls posing as Black people, this report on the connections between misogyny and white supremacy, The Guardian’s study on the effect of trolls on who does journalism.
  5. See, for example, this interesting article on this problem: Trolling as a Collective Form of Harassment: An Inductive Study of How Online Users Understand Trolling.

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