Activist speaks out about mock twitter account, rape, death threats and police inaction
By Caitlin Roper
Earlier this year, Germaine Greer argued that women now are worse off than ever, citing the proliferation of pornography and the level of harassment and abuse directed toward women on social media as evidence. I tend to agree.
For a feminist campaigner like myself, threats of violence and rape have become part of the territory. I am used to being called a bitch or a slut (or worse) by unidentified men online for expressing an opinion. I’ve been singled out by Men’s Rights Activist group A Voice For Men after writing a piece on the media’s bias against women. I am no longer surprised when I receive unwelcome sexual comments from men online about my body or to let me to know they are masturbating to my image. I am no longer shocked when I receive rape threats while campaigning against sexual violence. And no, the irony is not lost on me.
So it came as no huge surprise when I received rape threats this week for publically sharing a petition against rapist Ched Evans. I received tweets calling me “rape bait”, “f*ck meat”, a “bitter whore”, “cum slut” who “likes it rough” and “spreads without thinking” and warning me to “start prepping my anus”. While these comments would never be accepted in the offline world, women are expected to just ‘deal with it’ online.
However, this time I decided to go to the police when I found a copy of my twitter profile offering sex to men on the Internet. It was so close to identical it even fooled me, and I initially thought my account had been hacked. My profile picture had been sent to an online community sharing images of women for masturbation purposes. My twitter bio had been updated to include graphic descriptions of sex acts I would perform for men, inviting men to follow me, “the biggest slut in Australia”. My website was changed from collectiveshout.org to a pornographic website. Various tweets were sent out in my name, asking men to “f*ck me” and claiming that I enjoyed being raped.
I was gripped with panic. There were so many thoughts running through my mind as I watched tweets going out in my name soliciting some men I knew, and others I didn’t.
I reluctantly went to the police station. As many women know, abuse and threats against women online are not regarded as a priority. My colleague Talitha Stone received international media attention when she was targeted with thousands of rape and death threats after criticizing Tyler the Creator’s songs. (See here, here and here). His lyrics include ‘rape a pregnant bitch and call it a three-way’. Tyler’s 1.7 million twitter followers went after her. One tweet to Talitha threatened to ‘cut her tits off’. A student from a Melbourne Catholic boys school shared her home address with the angry mob. He was out by one street.
Local police sent Talitha home with a stack of cyber-safety pamphlets.
Another colleague went to the police after one man described how he intended to mutilate her body and dissolve it in acid. The police officer suggested that the internet was “not a very nice place” and maybe she should stay off it.
Yet another colleague had to explain to police, who thought she should just go offline forever (despite the fact that the vast majority of her work was done there) that it was actually an offence in the Commonwealth Criminal Code to use a carriage service (e.g. the internet) to make a threat. The police seemed unaware of this fact.
These threats are criminal. They are designed to erode any sense of safety and security and to keep women in our preferred place. As Anita Sarkeesian from Feminist Frequency observed, Elliot Rodger used the Internet to make threats preceding his violent killing spree. How many other men, including unstable ones, feel supported if not justified in their hateful attitudes by an online culture of misogyny?
When I reported the man who was pimping me out online, the officer at my local police station suggested, “Maybe you should use a more plain picture.” As if my standard portrait shot was somehow ‘asking for it’? From my experience, how I look is irrelevant. I’ve been called both “fat, ugly and bitter” and “f**ckable”. Regardless of the headshots women use, men will target us if they feel so inclined.
Women and feminist campaigners in particular, are increasingly being targeted, abused and intimidated online. Caroline Criado Perez was pursued relentlessly for her campaign for more equal representation of women on bank notes. Anita Sarkeesian of Feminist Frequency continues to be attacked for her educational videos highlighting the sexist and one-dimensional depiction of women in video games.
There is a pattern- women call for better treatment of women, they are vilified by men on social media who perceive this as a threat and feel the need to silence their voices. They believe if they can make us fearful enough, we will stop doing our work and stop challenging systems that privilege their rights and interests over ours. They are wrong. We just get back to work.
The man who targeted me has been identified. His name is Nader, he is 25 and lives in California. He has been linked to at least eight different twitter accounts he uses to abuse women, including survivors of sex trafficking. In fact, the first rape threats he sent me came from the fake account he had created of yet another feminist campaigner he had been targeting.
He is so brazen about his incitement to rape me, so sure he is untouchable, he barely even tried to conceal his real identity. Unfortunately for him in the course of harassing countless women on twitter, he left a trail leading to his name, image, phone number, email address, Facebook page and pictures of him exposing his erect penis which he had previously circulated on one of his trolling accounts.
Copies of Nader’s threats and his personal information have been supplied to the LAPD, to Penn State (listed as his school on social media) and to Australian police, to be referred to a California branch of the FBI. I am also aware of complaints against him from women in Sweden and the UK. This has not stopped Nader.
To their credit, Twitter acted quickly to suspend the fake account once I had verified my identity with photo ID. However, the victory is only short lived. Once an abusive account is suspended, there is nothing to stop the user simply signing up for a new account- immediately. Why has Twitter failed to shut these abusive accounts down permanently? What is stopping them from flagging the email addresses of users who continue to use their service as a means to threaten women?
What is Twitter’s response to victims? Contact the police. What do the police say? Contact Twitter.
There is a common assumption among police, and perhaps the wider community, that if men are threatening women online the solution is for women to go offline.
“Why don’t you just close down your account?” asked the officer taking my statement. I explained how I used twitter in the course of my work for a non-profit organisation to share our campaigns with a broader audience. She pressed further, “But why do you need to use it?” as if it was somehow unreasonable for me to believe I had as much right as anyone to access social media without threats.
My experience with the police illustrates widespread cultural attitudes that place the responsibility to prevent crimes of violence with victims instead of perpetrators. Just as campaigns to reduce sexual violence have traditionally focused on women, advising them how to ‘not get raped’ rather than calling on men to treat women with respect, in an online scenario, the onus is again on women to bear the burden of responsibility for men’s abuse. What did we expect, thinking we could use social media and have an opinion? We kind of brought it on ourselves, didn’t we?
Whether it is rape, domestic violence, abuse or online threats, telling victims to modify their behaviour is a fruitless endeavor- the power to prevent men’s violence against women lies completely with (surprise!) men.
I have encountered too many men on twitter who dish out vile abuse and threaten rape, confident they are doing so with impunity, with a firm belief that they will never be held accountable for their crimes. That’s been true, so far.
The silver lining is that I have had the privilege of connecting with strong, incredible women online. These women are dedicated to challenging attitudes and institutions that promote and profit from sexism, exploitation and men’s violence against women, despite the emotional toll. (Believe me, there is a real emotional toll to doing this work.) These are the women who stand with me and other women time and again in the face of ugly threats and misogyny, bonded by our shared experiences of victimisation and our refusal to be silenced. Together we are unstoppable.
This is an extended version of an article which appeared inThe Guardian last week.
It started, ostensibly at least, with an online debate about Ched Evans – a British soccer player who escaped fame but found notoriety after his conviction for rape in 2012. Last month he was freed from jail. Evans, just 25, wants to play soccer again. To that end, he released a video professing his innocence and describing the incident as regrettable but “consensual” infidelity. An online petition opposing his reinstatement to the professional leagues attracted more than 150,000 signatures.
One of those signatures belonged to Caitlin Roper, a feminist activist based in Perth. Quickly, the debate inflamed the world wide web and became a conflagration of sexualised threats. Roper was targeted. “In a way, given the nature of my work, I’m somewhat used to abuse and threats from men online,” she tells me. “You have to try and disconnect from all of it emotionally, you put on a brave face and get back to work. As the threats kept coming, though, I felt my anxiety levels rising. There’s a sense of panic, and I think that’s the point. These men think if they threaten us with violence then we will be forced to stop campaigning against the objectification of women. They want us to be scared.”
Roper’s aggressor established a fake Twitter account under her name. He adopted Roper’s profile picture, and in the hour before it was suspended, published personalised obscenity. The following examples are graphic, but representative: “Hi I’m Caitlin Roper, as a professional prostitute…” and “I sell my wet panties #anal #porn” and “Hey!! It’s me Caitlin, just wanted to let you know I’m a rape loving little whore”. There are many more. From other accounts, the man harassed different women: “You’re a fucking whore and a slut” and “Perhaps when one day a random man rapes you, you will rescind your ignorance.” There are hundreds of messages like these. Read more
US Rapper Tyler The Creator unleashes a torrent of hate on Sydney activist
By Talitha Stone
I’m a 23-year-old psychology student from Sydney and in June this year, I was subjected to a horrific torrent of abusive tweets from fans of touring American rapper Tyler Okonma. I challenged Okonma’s lyrics which encourage rape and violence against women by vocally supporting a petition on change.org that suggested he shouldn’t be playing all-age shows.
At Tyler’s concert in Sydney the next day, he told his fans he hoped my children got STDs, and “dedicated” songs to me that included lyrics like “punch a bitch in her mouth just for talkin’ shit”.
The abuse started almost instantly. First a drip, then a rush, then a flood. I felt physically sick. He had 1.7 million fans, and it felt like every single one of them had some violence stored up for me – a promise to assault me, the threat that they would rape me, an expression of hatred for my life and my freedom.
It was terrifying at first, and then I started to feel totally disconnected from myself. When one of them said he was going to mutilate my body, I couldn’t comprehend that he could be talking about me. The messages were coming at such a rate I couldn’t keep up.
Tyler Okonma, aka Tyler The Creator, is a member of powerful hip-hop collective Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All (usually abbreviated to OFWGKTA or Odd Future). It’s unclear how many members are part of the collective (somewhere between 25 and 60), but its best-known members are Okonma, Earl Sweatshirt, Syd tha Kyd, Hodgy Beats and last year’s Grammy-winning breakout artist, R&B singer Frank Ocean.
As a solo artist, Okonma has released three albums, his horrorcore-style lyrics taking in subjects such as violence, rape fantasies, murder and even necrophilia.
His lyrics include:
“F— Mary in her ass.. ha-ha.. yo, I tell her it’s my house, give her a tour, In my basement, and keep that bitch locked up in my storage, Rape her and record it, then edit it with more shit”
“You call this shit rape but I think that rape’s fun, I just got one request, stop breathin”
“I wanna tie her body up and throw her in my basement, Keep her there, so nobody can wonder where her face went, (Tyler, what you doin’?) Shut the f— up, You gon’ f—in’ love me bitch, Shit, I don’t give a f—, your family lookin’ for you, wish ‘em good luck, Bitch, you tried to play me like a dummy, Now you stuck up in my motherf—in’ basement all bloody, And I’m f—in’ your dead body, your coochie all cummy, Lookin’ in your dead eyes, what the f— you want from me?”
I received threats from Okonma’s fans constantly for two weeks and I still get the odd tweet of abuse today. In a tone eerily similar to Okonma’s lyrics they sent messages like: “shut the f— up cuz if I see you on the streets I’m gonna snatch u in a alley and force this d— in you,” “how’s that for promoting rape? I’m f—ing DOING it! So watch ur back, but ur families will be first” and “you know you secretly want @f—tyler to forcibly penetrate your anal cavity”.
On the flipside I received an abundance of support from friends and family. People who read about my experience in The Sydney Morning Herald and other media outlets couldn’t believe that this kind of behaviour was being tolerated in Australia.
When I was attacked I did all the things you’re meant to do: I reported individual tweets to Twitter (after diligently filling out their long-winded forms) and was staggered to be told that tweets like this did not breach their guidelines: “f—ing waste of flesh worthless female. its girls like u who make guys want to #rape a helpless pussy like u”.
I blocked the people abusing me and then I reported it to the police, who said there was nothing they could do, other than work with Twitter. Their advice was to delete my account, and not provoke people – letting the abusers win.
After thousands of threats of rape, murder and experiences like mine, Twitter has recently announced that they’ll be rolling out a report abuse button on all platforms. That’s a great first step, but it’s kidding itself if it thinks this will solve the problems faced by myself and millions of other women right around the world. It’s also underestimating the consequences of creating a powerful global platform that is unsafe for women to share their opinions on.
Twitter’s rules and processes are badly broken. Other tweets, to other users, that Twitter has said are within their guidelines include: “I will rape you when I get the chance” and “Ur a f—ing faggot, go kill urself.” If you’re a woman who has used Twitter to talk about things that matter to you, chances are you’ve had a similar experience. Chances are, even if you report each and every abusive, threatening tweet, many of them will be OK’d by Twitter and the abuse will continue.
Twitter has significant power, and is playing an important role in world affairs – but it’s facing a critical moment. The people who run Twitter, like Del Harvey, Twitter’s head of trust and safety, need to realise that the platform must enable people to talk about the things that matter to them without facing a torrent of threats and abuse.
I’ve joined a global petition to get Twitter to stop rape abuse on its platform. The campaign was inspired by Caroline Criado-Perez, a British feminist who used a petition on change.org to fight to keep a woman on banknotes in Britain. Immediately after she won that campaign, she faced the horrendous backlash of violence and threats that come to so many women who raise their heads online. The momentum from her campaign for reform is now beginning to put pressure on Twitter, and I hope an international outcry will get them to act with a comprehensive zero-tolerance policy for abuse.
Public discourse shouldn’t be something anyone should have to “learn to deal with”. Twitter can, and must, play an active role in being a positive voice among the multitude of violent tweets some of its users dish out. Twitter’s actions here can have life-saving consequences – but it needs to act, swiftly and effectively.
We are now asking Twitter Australia to meet Talitha. Support this call by tweeting at @TwitterAu and asking them to #meettalitha, who started the petition at www.change.org/twitterabuse
The price you pay for activism – but it won’t stop us
[Warning: threatening, sexually violent language]
Caitlin Roper, my fellow Collective Shout activist in the West, has put together this montage of some of the abusive and threatening tweets we receive on a regular basis. We want people to know just how bad this is. We don’t believe women who speak out on issues should be threatened like this. Police have taken no action.
My friend and fellow Collective Shout activist Talitha Stone has launched this petition calling on Twitter to add a report abuse button to tweets. Please support this brave and gutsy young woman.
In June this year, I was subjected to an horrific torrent of abusive tweets from fans of rapper Tyler Okonma on twitter when I challenged his lyrics which encourage rape and violence towards women. The abuse was unbelievable. It included direct threats of rape, and at one point, twitter users tried to publish my address. Worse, I was told by police there was no way to stop it other than deleting my account: letting the abusers win.
Nothing has changed. Recently, Caroline Criado-Perez, who campaigned to keep women on banknotes in the United Kingdom, has been targeted repeatedly, with rape threats over three days because of her campaign. We have to be able to change this – and urgently.
Women should be able to speak out without facing threats of rape and assault.
I’m asking for your help to get Twitter to urgently add a Report Abuse Button to tweets on all platforms. It won’t fix everything – but it’s a good start. We know they’re listening – but they need to move quickly – this is out of control.
At Tyler’s concert, he told his fans he hoped my children got STDs, and “dedicated” songs to me that included lyrics like “punch a bitch in her mouth just for talkin’ shit” – the people who responded to his call to arms are still free to do to everyone else on twitter what they did to me.
It’s time Twitter took a zero tolerance policy on abuse, and learns to tell the difference between abuse and defence. Women standing up to abuse should not fear having their accounts cancelled because Twitter fail to see the issue at hand. This behaviour would have people banned from other public spaces – it’s barely acknowledged as being wrong on twitter.
Please sign my petition to ask Twitter to urgently add a Report Abuse Button to tweets on all platforms.
Statement from twitter:
We hear you
Monday, July 29, 2013
At Twitter, we work every day to create products that can reach every person on the planet. To do that, we must take a wide range of use cases into consideration when designing interfaces or developing user tools. We want Twitter to work whether you are trying to follow your favourite musician, talk to others about shared interests, or raise the visibility of a human rights issue.
We also have to think about scale and volume. We see an incredible amount of activity passing through our systems – there are more than 400 million Tweets sent every day worldwide. Those Tweets not only appear on our site and in our apps, but are also embedded into the fabric of traditional and digital media.
The vast majority of these use cases are positive. That said, we are not blind to the reality that there will always be people using Twitter in ways that are abusive and may harm others.
While manually reviewing every Tweet is not possible due to Twitter’s global reach and level of activity, we use both automated and manual systems to evaluate reports of users potentially violating our Twitter Rules. These rules explicitly bar direct, specific threats of violence against others and use of our service for unlawful purposes, for which users may be suspended when reported.
To the extent that our system is based around the filing of reports with our Trust & Safety team, we strive to make it easier and more practical to file them. Three weeks ago, we rolled out the ability to file reports from an individual Tweet on our iPhone app and the mobile version of our site, and we plan to bring this functionality to Android and desktop web users.
We are constantly talking with our users, advocacy groups, and government officials to see how we can improve Twitter, and will continue to do so. Such feedback has always played an important role in the development of our service. We hope the public understands the balances we’re trying to strike as we continue to work to make our systems and processes better.
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