The XX Factor

Can These Feminists Fix Twitter’s Harassment Problem?

Women’s Action Media! is teaming up with Twitter.

Photo by Bethany Clarke/Getty Images

Thursday, the feminist media group Women Action Media, known as WAM!, announced a new collaboration with Twitter to tackle the ongoing problem of misogynist Twitter harassment. (Full disclosure: I’ve DJ-ed fundraisers for WAM! in the past.) “A recent Pew research study found that fully 25 percent of young women have been sexually harassed online and 26 percent have experienced stalking,” writes WAM! leader Jaclyn Friedman. “What’s more, Pew found that women overall are disproportionately targeted by the most severe forms of online abuse.” This is something that many women have been enduring for a long time, but Twitter abuse has gotten quite a bit of attention in recent months due to #GamerGate and the ugly harassment Robin Williams’s daughter Zelda.

After the Williams incident, Twitter announced that it would “not tolerate abuse of this nature,” but did not elaborate on what it would do to combat it in the future, particularly in instances when the abused is not a famous person. Here’s where WAM! comes in. The group created a form for women to use to report misogynist or any other bigoted harassment. But here’s the essential part:

WAM! will escalate validated reports to Twitter and track Twitter’s responses to different kinds of gendered harassment.  At the end of the pilot test period, WAM! will analyze the data collected and use it to work with Twitter to better understand how gendered harassment intersects with other types of harassment, how those attacks function on their platform, and to improve Twitter’s responses to it.

There’s reason to think that WAM!’s involvement will do some good. As anyone who has reported abuse on Twitter can tell you, pretty much anything is better than the current system. And a woman’s group might also be much better at sussing out what is and isn’t sexist harassment than the mostly-male staff at Twitter. But WAM! also has experience in this sort of thing. Last summer, the group decided to run a campaign shaming Facebook over the proliferation of pro-rape and other anti-woman hate groups that escaped censure by declaring themselves “humor” pages. Facebook responded by cracking down on this kind of content. Twitter has wisely chosen to work with WAM! directly rather than go through that sort of public shaming, and hopefully this collaboration will be mutually beneficial.