A groundbreaking study has revealed the shocking level of abuse on Twitter targeting women. Researchers from Amnesty International and an AI software start-up, Element AI, used 6,500 volunteers to read through almost 300,000 tweets aimed at one of 778 female politicians and journalists, and label any abuse targeting gender, race and sexuality.
Findings from the unique crowdsourcing project — dubbed Troll Patrol — indicate around 1.1 million abusive tweets were sent to those women in 2017, or one every 30 seconds on average. The list comprised all female members of parliament in the U.K., female members of Congress in the U.S., and a selection of journalists working across a range of titles in a broad political spectrum — from Pink News, The Guardian and The New York Times, to The Daily Mail and Breitbart.
“Troll Patrol means we have the data to back up what women have long been telling us – that Twitter is a place where racism, misogyny and homophobia are allowed to flourish basically unchecked,” said Milena Marin, Senior Advisor for Tactical Research at Amnesty International.
“We found that, although abuse is targeted at women across the political spectrum, women of color were much more likely to be impacted, and black women are disproportionately targeted. Twitter’s failure to crack down on this problem means it is contributing to the silencing of already marginalized voices.”
Black women were 84 percent more likely than white women to be mentioned in abusive or problematic tweets, the study found. Although in proportion Latina women received less abuse than white women, they were 81 percent more likely to get specific threats of physical violence compared to white women.
“Abuse of this kind really limits women’s freedom of expression online. It makes them withdraw, limit conversations and even remove themselves altogether,” said Marin.
Blogging for Amnesty in March, author and columnist Jessica Valenti wrote that telling victims to just not be on Twitter “is really akin to saying to someone ‘well just don’t walk alone on the street at night.’ These are public spaces, this is the new town square. In order for women to fully participate in life we need to be in these spaces. Often times, especially if you’re a writer, it’s almost informally required. To tell women to just not be there is absurd.”
Twitter’s failure to effectively tackle violence and abuse on the platform has a chilling effect on freedom of expression online and undermines women’s mobilization for equality and justice, the study concluded, calling the platform “a toxic place for women.”
Read Amnesty International’s full set of recommendations to Twitter here and read a range of case studies and personal blogs by prominent victims of online abuse, including Jessica Valenti, Miski Noor, Laura Bates, and Ruth Davidson.
Watch Amnesty International U.K.’s suggestions for improving the situation for women online: