Twitter needs to prove it’s 'committed to improving' the platform for women

If you’re a prominent woman, it’s bad. If you’re a prominent woman of color, it’s worse. And if you’re specifically a prominent black woman, it’s the worst.

A new report highlights that females in careers like journalism, politics and other public positions are being targeted more often with “abusive or problematic” tweets.   

Twitter is a “toxic place for women”

The study done by Amnesty International concluded that Twitter is a “toxic place for women.” The report states that about 7 percent of the tweets prominent women in government and journalism receive were found to be “abusive or problematic.”

For the purpose of the study, content that met this threshold were determined to be misogynistic, homophobic, racist, or violent. Each tweet was analyzed by multiple people.  

Women of color were 34 percent more likely to be targets than white women. Black women specifically were 84 percent more likely than white women to be mentioned in the tweets labeled as problematic.

While this may simply quantify what many have already assumed, it once again brings up the question: what is Twitter going to do about it?

Twitter is “committed to improving”

In response to the report, Vijaya Gadde, Twitter’s head of legal, policy and trust and safety, said, “Twitter has publicly committed to improving the collective health, openness and civility of public conversation on our service.”

Where have we heard this talking point before? Oh, that’s right — from Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey in September when he testified to Congress and said, “Twitter has publicly committed to improving the collective health, openness and civility of public conversation on our platform.”

Twitter’s leadership may have their public response rehearsed, but there is no indication that the company has a clear plan in place to start addressing its core problems.

Twitter did release detailed statistics on the enforcement of its rules around abuse and other violations of its terms of use in its recent "transparency report." While it is improving, enforcement is still often arbitrary and lackluster.   

Trying is half the battle

To be fair to Twitter, this is a colossal problem to solve.

There are many logistical issues. These range from who will actually police the platform, to defining what constitutes as harassment, to trying to apply equal punishments to each nuanced incident in a timely manner.

Still, other platforms, like Facebook, are making a more concerted effort at this. And Twitter needs to do a better job of cleaning up, because for these professionals, being on social media is not a luxury, it’s a necessity.

Social media is part of the job description

Social media has become the modern public square and promotional venue. Public figures need to be active to stay relevant and effective at their jobs.

For example, politicians use it to inform constituents and receive real-time feedback. Journalists use Twitter to find sources, survey for stories and promote their work.

Making the argument that if you ‘don’t want to take abuse just stay off the platform’ is an ignorant stance to take. It also is shameful that we would accept that women just have to endure this as part of the territory. I suppose many had the same type of argument when women started entering the workforce, too.

Action steps Twitter can take now

So what can Twitter do now? Well for one, actually demonstrating that being “publicly committed to improving” is more than just a talking point. And the best way for them to do that is spend money on fixing the problem.

Like Facebook, Twitter is going to need to use a combination of real people and artificial intelligence when it comes to purging the vitriol that runs through its site. That means hiring more content reviewers to manually flag content. It will also require the best programmers to create A.I. that will identify problems in real-time.

Twitter also needs to be more consistent with their harassment and abuse policies. No policy will ever be perfect, but it can certainly be better than it is now. Perhaps bringing together academics, private entities, non-profits and users who are affected to analyze and enhance the Twitter experience is another place to start.

Of course, none of this will be cheap. And in a time when Twitter is trying to demonstrate to investors that it will be profitable, it’s not attractive to spend more money to essentially remove users from the platform.

So yes, this will all be hard for Twitter, but taking abuse on a regular basis is unjust. Women can’t do much about that problem, but Twitter can surely do something about theirs.

Adam Chiara is an assistant professor of communication at the University of Hartford. He has worked as a legislative aide in the Connecticut General Assembly, as a journalist and in several positions in PR. He's on Twitter at @AdamChiara.