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Time’s Up, Twitter

Coincidentally, the day I decided to write this article was February 6th, 2018 — the 100 year anniversary of the passing of the Representation of the People Act in the United Kingdom. This was the day women (only those aged over 30, owned property, were a university graduate or were a member of, or married to, a member of the Local Government Register) were granted the same right to vote as men. Although this was a huge step in the movement towards equal rights for women, I ask, how can it be that to this day, women are still needing to fight to be treated fairly, and with the respect that they reserve?

In 1970, the UK parliament released the Equal Pay Act, which should ensure that all women received the same income as their male colleagues. But in light of the recent BBC pay-rate reveal, which found a 9% difference in annual salaries between male and female workers, it is clear that women are still not viewed as being equal with their male counterparts in the workplace.

Here in Australia, over a quarter of women have reported being harassed in their place of work, with the Australian Bureau of Statistics Personal Safety Survey finding that over half of all women have experienced sexual harassment in their lifetime. For 92% of these women, this assault came from a male that they know.

The #MeToo campaign, described as a “national reckoning over sexual assault and harassment”, began with a status on Facebook, which was copy and pasted by women who had experienced sexual abuse or harassment, to convey just how large this problem really is in modern society. This movement has not only shone a light on this horrific behaviour, but also served to create a sense of empowerment and community for the women who have felt alone in their experience of abuse, and displayed the power of social media in the dissemination of important messages.

Along with this, the #TimesUp campaign, supported by many well-known female celebrities such as Natalie Portman, Emma Stone, and Mila Kunis, begun with an open letter signed by over 300 women from the entertainment industry, with the aim of encouraging women to protect themselves from sexual misconduct, and the consequences that may arise from reporting it. This movement, commencing with a full paged advertisement in the New York Times, pledged over 13 million dollars into a fund for the legal defence for women in less privileged professions, to allow them to confidently speak out about their experience without fear of retribution.

The open letter to the New York Times acknowledged that due to “systematic gender-inequality and imbalance of power”, an environment has been created where many women today share a “common experience of being preyed upon, harassed, and exploited by those who abuse their power”, and that this harassment has been suppressed, for fear that speaking out would result in further attacks or other consequences. But #TimesUp speaks to exactly that – time is well and truly up for this kind of behaviour – “now, unlike ever before, our access to the media and to important decision makers has the potential of leading to real accountability an consequences”. The time is here for women to utilise media visibility and the strength of their combined voices to put an end to inappropriate treatment and harassment once and for all.

With this power in mind, it has come to the attention of Amnesty International (and many, many others the world-over), that a high number of women have reported frequently experiencing sexual harassment via Twitter, with minimal policy and enforcement changes having taken place to prevent this behaviour. CEO Jack Dorsey has publicly stated that policy changes have been submitted to the company’s “Trust & Safety Council” for review.

The current policy on unwanted sexual advances is that enforcement action is only taken when a report is received from a participant in the conversation. Twitter has said that it will be looking into leveraging past interaction signals, such as block and mute, when considering these cases. Twitter has stated also that it will be taking enforcement action against groups that glorify violence. Currently, with pornographic content being allowed on Twitter, it is challenging to determine whether or not sexual charged conversations or the exchange of sexual media may be wanted.

In December 2017, Twitter announced that new rules would be applied to accounts who promote violence, and that any accounts who were repeatedly in violation of this rule would be permanently suspended, including violent threats and sexist comments.

Yet there are still countless cases of women coming forward and reporting feeling unsafe and sexually harassed on social media. We call for Twitter, and all other social media platforms, to be stronger in implementing their own policies. We live in a time where we all know know this behaviour is happening, all too often, and it is unacceptable. Time’s Up, Twitter.

Words by Rachel Cowcher

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