Date: Dec 7, 2021 Type: Country:

South Africa: New Report Finds Twitter Continues to Fall Short on Protecting Women Online

Twitter is still not doing enough to protect women and non-binary users from online violence and abuse, new analysis from Amnesty International found.

Twitter has approximately 9.3 million users in South Africa and is used for various reasons, both positive and negative. On the positive side, Twitter is used to impart accurate information or news, for networking, and to hold people accountable. However, it also has a dark side where it is used to spread disinformation, abuse people or incite violence.

Between July and August 2021, Amnesty International South Africa conducted interviews with nine women who live in South Africa and are on Twitter or who had at one point been on Twitter. The interviewees comprised of politicians, journalists, artists, academics, and activists who experienced abuse on the platform. The interviews were semi-structured and focused on the interviewees’ experiences of abuse on Twitter, reporting abuse on the platform and Twitter’s response to these reports, and whether or not they have seen a decline in the abuse they receive on Twitter over the past two years. These interviews contributed to Amnesty’s 2021 Twitter Scorecard

“It is concerning that women in particular are facing this kind of abuse online, with little to sometimes no support from Twitter,” Amnesty International South Africa’s Executive Director Shenilla Mohamed said. 

“The release of Twitter scorecard during 16 Days of Activism is also a stark reminder that violence against women is not just happening in person, but online as well, which can have a negative emotional and mental health impact on those on the receiving end.” 

The Twitter Scorecard grades the social media company’s record on implementing a series of recommendations to tackle abuse against women on the platform. Despite some welcome progress stemming from recommendations put forth in Amnesty’s 2020 Scorecard, Twitter needs to do much more to address the online abuse of women and users from other marginalised groups. The company has fully implemented just one of the ten recommendations in the report, with limited progress in improving transparency around the content moderation process and appeals process.

“Despite our repeated calls to improve their platform, Twitter is still falling short on its promises to protect users at heightened risk of online abuse against women,” said Mohamed.

“For a company whose mission is to ‘give everyone the power to create and share ideas instantly without barriers,’ it’s become abundantly clear that women and people from other marginalised groups disproportionately face threats to their online safety.”

A survey commissioned by Amnesty International also shows that women who are more active on the platform were more likely to report experiencing online abuse, compared to those less active – 40% of women who use the platform more than once a day report experiencing abuse, compared to 13% who use the platform less than once a week.

Amnesty also asked women who chose not to report abuse why they did not do so. Notably, 100% of the women who use the platform numerous times a week and who didn’t report abuse responded that it was “not worth the effort.”

Though Twitter has made some progress, it is far from enough. They have increased the amount of information available through their Help Center and Transparency Reports, while also launching new public awareness campaigns, expanding the scope of their hateful conduct policy, and improving their reporting mechanisms and privacy and security features. Though these are important steps, the problem remains. As Twitter stated in their response to this report: “We’re committed to experimenting in public with product solutions that help address the fundamental problems our users are facing, and empowering them with controls to set their own experience. While many of these changes are not directly captured in your report scorecard, we believe these improvements will ultimately enable our most vulnerable communities to better engage in free expression without fear, a goal we share with Amnesty.”

Yet Twitter must do more in order for women – in all languages – to be able to use the platform without fear of abuse. As a company, Twitter has a corporate responsibility and moral obligation to take concrete steps to avoid causing or contributing to human rights abuses, including by providing effective remedy for any actual impact it has inflicted on its users.

“We have seen time and time again that Twitter has continuously failed to provide effective remedies for the real harm and impact its platform has caused women and/or marginalized groups,” added Mohamed. 

“As our world has become increasingly dependent on digital spaces during the Covid-19 pandemic, it’s critical that Twitter meet this moment with demonstrated commitment to improving the online experiences of all users, regardless of their identity.”

Background

This Scorecard synthesizes all of the recommendations Amnesty International has made to Twitter since 2018 and distils them into ten key recommendations upon which to evaluate the company. These ten recommendations coalesce into four high-level categories: Transparency, Reporting Mechanisms, Abuse Report Review Process, and Privacy & Security Features. The analysis is focused on these four categories of change because of the positive impact each can have on the experiences of women on Twitter.

Each individual recommendation is comprised of one to four separate sub-indicators. Amnesty International then determined whether Twitter has made progress against each sub-indicator, grading each indicator as either Not Implemented, Work in Progress, or Implemented. In the context of ongoing public awareness campaigns, Amnesty International looked at whether these campaigns had addressed all the issues which we raised, as well as whether these campaigns and related materials were available in languages other than English.

Ahead of publishing the Scorecard, Amnesty International wrote to Twitter to seek an update on the progress of implementing our recommendations and the company’s response has been reflected throughout the report.

Read more

2020 Twitter Scorecard

Toxic Twitter

Troll Patrol India

For more information or to request an interview, please contact:

Genevieve Quintal, Media and Communications Officer, Amnesty International South Africa: +27 (0)64 890 9224; genevieve.quintal@amnesty.org.za