28 Jul 2013

Arrest after Twitter threats against women’s campaigner

Caroline Criado-Perez tells Channel 4 News a “huge cultural shift is needed” to deal with sexist abuse via social media, as police arrest a man in connection with “malicious communications”.

A 21-year-old has been arrested in the Greater Manchester area on suspicion of harassment offences. Police said the arrest was in connection with an allegation of malicious communications received on Thursday 25 July.

On Wednesday Caroline Criado-Perez, who runs a feminist website, had celebrated a successful campaign to ensure a British female icon, Jane Austen, will appear on future British banknotes.

Ms Criado-Perez was shocked to then experience a 48-hour bombardment of angry tweets from numerous accounts, some of them threatening violence and even rape.

It makes me feel that the campaign was more important than we’d realised. If such a small thing can cause such a huge reaction.

“Soon, I was overwhelmed in a very different way,” she explained, at the “vehement hatred some men still feel for women who don’t ‘know their place’.”

She told Channel 4 News: “I was aware that women suffer from this kind of thing in the public eye – but for a start I didn’t think I was anywhere near in the public eye enough. And it was such a small ask after all – just one woman on a banknote.”

Her website The Women’s Room provides a forum for women who feel under-represented in the media.

Caroline Criado-Perez on Twitter.

She acknowledged that men, such as sports stars or entertainers, also suffer at the hands of Twitter “trolls” but said the type of abuse females get on social media can be unrelated to an event or a performance.

“When women get it [abuse] it’s just because they’re women who are speaking out.

“It’s not to say men don’t get abuse – but it’s the type of abuse and the meaning behind it, the desire behind it – which is to shut us up.

“There’s a certain section of society that just isn’t comfortable with women speaking out, women appearing in public.

“In many ways it makes me feel that the campaign was more important than we’d realised. If such a small thing can cause such a huge reaction – it just shows how far we still have to go.”

Twitter boycott

Twitter users are threatening to boycott the social network following threatening behaviour while a petition, which calls for a “report abuse” button to be added to the site, has now gathered more than 40,000 supporters.

“I don’t think the police or Twitter can solve it overnight,” said Ms Criano-Perez.

Calls growing for a Twitter 'report' abuse button. (Getty)

“A huge cultural shift is needed – but certainly Twitter and police could be doing a lot more to protect women and to ensure that when people do make rape threats they get dealth with.”

Ms Criano-Perez added that she was flattered by a plan by supporters, both female and male, to boycott Twitter but that it “went against everythnig she had done so far – standing up to abuse”.

More from Channel 4 News: How to beat the trolls

On Saturday, Tony Wang, the general manager of Twitter UK, said that the company takes online abuse very seriously.

He tweeted: “We encourage users to report an account for violation of the Twitter rules by using one of our report form.

“Also, we’re testing ways to simplify reporting, e.g. within a Tweet by using the ‘Report Tweet’ button in our iPhone app and on mobile web.

“We will suspend accounts that, once reported to us, are found to be in breach of our rules.”

Meanwhile Steve Summers, also from Twitter UK, has reportedly asked to have all the police reference numbers and specific tweets sent to him so the company can take action.