Imani Gandy (a.k.a. @AngryBlackLady) on Twitter’s refusal to deal with harassment on its service, and some of the manual pushback she’s been trying.
As I mentioned when I first saw this–ironically, on Twitter–reading this kind of made me want to program a simple app that auto-forwards abusive Tweets to @support. It wouldn’t be difficult to do, and if Twitter won’t implement an appropriate “flag as inappropriate” function…
Of course, the general consensus at the time was that the only result of such a service would be Twitter blocking the API calls of the service itself, not actually doing anything to address the problem.
Trust issues. Twitter has tiem.
On the one hand: good. Twitter has a harassment problem, and it’s nice to see the company even so much as acknowledge it in any kind of public way.
On the other hand: a non-zero number of people have been asking why it took the death of a famous white guy in order to prompt this “review”, when handfuls of lesser-known people receive deluges of the same sort of behaviour every day?
First of all, in case it’s not obvious: this isn’t about Williams, father or daughter. What happened to Zelda Williams in the wake of her father’s death was awful, and she and her family deserve the right to grieve however they want to, in public or in private, without being subjected to bile.
This is not about that. This is about Twitter.
Why did it take such a high-profile incident as this one to push the company into action? Because Twitter, above all else, is in the business of selling eyeballs. And celebrities bring eyeballs.
That’s it. That’s the reason.
Some feminists with a few thousand followers get rape threats and leaves the service? Meh. Why does Twitter care, again? But upset the Hollywood machine–start losing the people with followers in the millions, or the brands and companies they work with–and the service is dead. Because Twitter is not a social network, contrary to popular belief; it’s an advertising, data mining, and content pushing platform. It has to be, by definition, because that’s its business model. It makes money in no other way. The fact that Twitter also facilitates some social network-like interaction is a corollary to its actual purpose, which is to blast you with “promoted” (read: bought and sold) tweets and hashtags.
People leave Twitter for two reasons: boredom and harassment. Having famous people using the service alleviates the first because, for whatever reason, people like following their pet celebs (or brands, companies, news outlets, etc.). Meaning that when Big Names start pulling out of the game due to the second, the chances their halos of followers pull out because of the first increases. After all, people don’t need Twitter for talking to friends and family they already know, or posting photos of their lunch; that’s what Facebook and Instagram are for.
Celebrities are Twitter’s cash cows. Its draw card. That’s why it can’t lose them. And yes, this is just one woman, but she’s one woman with an experience that’s symptomatic of something Twitter doesn’t want its brand to be known for (an unsafe space for famous people, if you’re wondering, note emphasis).
Hence the “review”.1
If all that sounds incredibly cynical to you… Well. That’s business.
- It’s worth noting that, in the months since this was announced, Twitter has actually done pretty much fuck-all. I’m sure approximately 0% of people are surprised. [↩]
Writing in Polygon, Ben Kuchera makes the case that Twitter profits off harassment. Or, perhaps more accurately, Twitter has no financial incentive to provide users tools to protect themselves from harassment (and Kuchera lists several possibilities and links to more, proving the exercise is, at minimum, conceptually possible).
See also the #askcostolo hashtag, wherein the CEO of Twitter joins the illustrious ranks of Robin Thicke, Qantas, and JPMorgan Chase; all entities that stunningly failed to predict obvious outcomes of Twitter Q&As.
(On a related note, re. that hashtag, does anyone think this Mary Sue headline is indicative of the disappointing new turn that site’s recently taken?)
I know I give Blizzard shit but, fair’s fair, mad props for doing this.
Summary edition: a few months back, the IESF–which is like the FIFA of e-sports–was getting some flack for its policies of splitting tournaments (unequally!) into men’s and women’s divisions. The essentially spurious argument for this was that “the Olympics does it” and if, a) sex-segregation in sport is uncontroversial in-and-of-itself, and b) average differences in biology have shit to do with how fast you can click a mouse.1
Blizzard, owner of Big Name e-sports titles Hearthstone and StarCraft, basically came down and said, “if you do this, we won’t allow you to licence our games for play”. The IESF backed down pretty quickly after that.
So you remember a while ago when there was that big blow-up of harassment on Twitter, and the company responded by streamlining their “report abuse” function? Well apparently they’ve now silently rolled that back. [Content warning for the link, wherein the author includes caps of some of the abuse she’s received.]
Gross, Twitter. Gross.