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USA: Twitter failing to protect pro-choice abortion activists from online violence

Research reveals how reproductive rights activists have experienced more online harassment and abuse since the May 2 leak of the Supreme Court’s draft opinion of Roe v Wade

Survey reveals Twitter has taken no action to help activists who reported abuse and hate speech

Twitter's inaction has led human rights defenders to censor themselves or limit use of social media

‘There is a glaring discrepancy between Twitter’s ideals and reality’ - Michael Kleinman

Twitter is failing to protect reproductive rights activists from online violence and abuse, according to new research carried out by Amnesty International USA.

According to a recent survey, many leading reproductive rights activists have faced increased harassment on Twitter since the May 2 leak of the Supreme Court’s draft opinion in Dobbs v Jackson Women’s Health Organisation, the legal case that overturned Roe v Wade and ended the constitutional right to abortion in the United States.

Michael Kleinman, Director of Technology and Human Rights at Amnesty International USA, said:

“Twitter must do more to protect activists fighting for reproductive rights, especially at such a critical moment.

“Over the past few years Amnesty and others have repeatedly called on Twitter to do more to address online violence and abuse. Yet, as these survey results show, if anything, the problem is only growing worse.

“There is a glaring discrepancy between Twitter’s ideals and reality.

“Instead of a global public space where all voices are heard, Twitter’s inaction when it comes to online violence and abuse means that often, the most marginalised voices are targeted. The company must do better.”

Online violence affecting work of activists

Of the 17 activists surveyed, all have used the platform to discuss issues related to reproductive rights since May 2. Ten of these activists (59%) have experienced an increase in abusive and hateful speech on Twitter over that time. Of those, six tried to report the abusive and hateful speech to Twitter – yet all six reported that Twitter had taken no action to address their situations.

Online violence and abuse has a direct impact on how activists use the platform and Twitter’s lack of action has left activists feeling vulnerable and unable to express their views. Some activists reported that due to the sharp increase in online violence and abuse they experienced, they actively chose to use the platform less or limit who they interacted with.

Tarah Demant, Interim National Director of Programs, Advocacy, and Government Affairs at Amnesty International USA, added:

“It is deplorable that activists risk being targeted on Twitter just at the moment when we most need them to speak out.

“Without action, Twitter’s continued tolerance of hateful and abusive speech will make it virtually impossible for activists to use the platform effectively - having devastating effects on society.”

All social media platforms face issues with online violence and abuse, yet the problem is particularly acute on Twitter. Ten of the activists reported that they thought there was more hateful and abusive speech on Twitter compared to other platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and TikTok.

Toxic Twitter

In 2018, Amnesty released Toxic Twitter: Violence and abuse against women online, a report exposing the scale, nature and impact of violence and abuse directed towards women in the UK and USA  on Twitter.

The report revealed that the platform had failed to uphold its responsibility to protect women’s rights online by failing to adequately investigate and respond to reports of violence and abuse in a transparent manner, leading many women to silence or censor themselves.
 
In September 2020, Amnesty published its first Twitter Scorecard that tracked Twitter’s global progress in addressing abusive speech against 10 indicators - covering transparency, reporting mechanisms, the abuse report review process, and enhanced privacy and security features.

Of the 10 recommendations outlined in the report, Twitter had fully implemented only one. In December last year, Amnesty released a second Twitter Scorecardwhich found that, one year later, Twitter had made only limited progress.

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