Will the abuse issue damage Twitter?

Is Twitter losing the battle against internet trolls who use the network to target female users, Ian Darby asks.

The online world has turned ugly. Recently, UK police have knocked on the door of more than one Twitter user following disgraceful abuse on the messaging site towards the feminist campaigner Caroline Criado-Perez and the Labour MP Stella Creasy.

The mood turned even uglier when bomb threats were issued to journalists supporting Criado-Perez. Those sympathetic to her responded with their own movement, #twittersilence, which saw thousands of UK users boycott the service for a day.

Anger has not only been turned towards Twitter, which was arguably slow to respond to accusations that it was doing little to prevent the abuse. Feelings escalated as Ask.fm, a less prominent social network, was linked to cases of teenage suicide.

Advertisers such as Vodafone and Save the Children are said to have boycotted Ask.fm, but will Twitter, which has a far greater following from brands, suffer a similar fate? Or are advertisers convinced that it has taken sufficient action to protect users from abuse while preserving the vibrancy of its content?

Twitter did not answer our questions but referred Campaign to a web message detailing its actions, including the introduction of an "in-Tweet report button" to help users respond to abuse and a pledge to work more closely with the UK Safer Internet Centre. It also said that it is "adding additional staff to the team that handle abuse reports".

At time of writing, there seemed to be little fallout from advertisers. Yet observers say that Twitter and other social networks could do more to address the "abuse issue".

Mark Creighton, the chief executive of Mindshare UK, calls for greater co-operation between Twitter and its rivals: "A clear overarching industry approach, which outlines how these issues will be identified and consistently dealt with, is the only way advertisers will establish full confidence."

Others believe brands can help social networks play a role in applying pressure on abusers. Lindsay Pattison, the chief executive of Maxus, says: "A concerted effort between brands, agencies, social platforms and the police exists to tackle online piracy. Surely a few idiots are easier to shut down than organised crime?"


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