Abusive messages on Twitter are a ‘hate crime’, critics claim - Today's news, tomorrow's lesson - 29 July

Twitter is facing demands that it take a tougher stance on abuse after a campaigner was subjected to a succession of rape threats on the microblogging website.

Today's news, tomorrow's lesson - 29 July

Abusive messages on Twitter are a ‘hate crime’, critics claim

Twitter is facing demands that it take a tougher stance on abuse after a campaigner was subjected to a succession of rape threats on the microblogging website.

Caroline Criado-Perez was subjected to threats of sexual abuse after successfully campaigning for a woman to appear on the new £10 banknote. The threats began shortly after the Bank of England announced that Jane Austen would replace Charles Darwin on the notes.

During one 12-hour period, Ms Criado-Perez said that she was receiving 50 abusive tweets an hour. She added that she was struggling to keep up with reporting the onslaught.

A number of well-known figures, including journalist Caitlin Moran, actress Rebecca Front and comedian Dara Ó’Briain, have expressed disgust at the campaign of abuse. Ms Moran suggested a collective boycott of Twitter on 4 August, which is international friendship day.

And Mr Ó’Briain tweeted: “If the ladies leave Twitter because of all the dumb, rapey 14-year-old boys, then I’m outta here people. Like most grown-up men too, I’d say.”

Several MPs have also criticised those making the threats. Yvette Cooper, the shadow home secretary, has written to Twitter UK demanding a full review of its policies on abusive behaviour. And Stella Creasy, Labour MP for Walthamstow, said: “This is not a technology crime – this is a hate crime. If they were doing it on the street, the police would act.”

A 21-year-old man in Manchester was in fact arrested on Sunday in connection with the harassment of Ms Criado-Perez. But the abuse came from more than one source, and Ms Criado-Perez’s supporters are calling for Twitter to make it easier for users to report online threats.

They have started a petition for a “report abuse” button to be available on every user’s page. At the moment, Twitter users are required to search for information on how to report abuse and then fill in a form. “It is time Twitter took a zero-tolerance policy on abuse,” the petition states. “It’s time Twitter started protecting its users.”

At the start of this week, the petition had already attracted more than 50,000 signatures.

A spokesperson for Twitter said: “We have rules which people agree to abide by when they sign up to Twitter. We encourage users to report an account for violation of the Twitter rules, by using one of our report forms.”

But Ms Criado-Perez argued that this was not an exclusively online debate, saying that Twitter is simply a new forum for an old problem. “It is a problem involving a certain type of man, who can’t cope with a woman being vocal and being in the public eye,” she said.

“They deal with it by shutting women up with threats of sexual violence. It is nothing new – it has been going on for millennia. This is just its most recent incarnation.”


  • What do we mean by the term "hate crime"?
  • Stella Creasy said of the threats made against Caroline Criado-Perez: “This is not a technology crime - this is a hate crime.” Do you agree with this statement? Explain your answer.
  • Who should be responsible for policing social media?
  • What are the limits of free speech? Should people always be able to say whatever they want or are there lines that should not be crossed?

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