Anger over Twitter’s ‘can’t be bothered’ attitude to disablist abuse


Campaigners have cast doubt on Twitter’s commitment to protecting disabled people from vile disablist abuse on its social media platform.

They spoke out after the media giant launched its new Twitter Trust and Safety Council, which it claimed would help “ensure that people feel safe expressing themselves on Twitter”.

The council is made up of 50 individuals and organisations from across the world, including representatives of anti-bullying, LGBT, Muslim, Jewish and feminist organisations.

But with the exception of the Samaritans and a campaigning Australian mental health charity, there is not a single disability-related organisation represented on the new council, and there does not appear to be a single disabled member.

Disabled activists say this underlines Twitter’s failure to take seriously the disablist abuse that blights the social media platform.

One disabled Twitter user, who asked not to be named, said: “What this says is that Twitter just don’t care about disability hate crime being carried out on their site.

“They don’t care about disabled people being told to die, that we should be beaten.

“They don’t care about people organising hate mobs to try to ruin disabled people’s lives.”

She said: “I’ve read lots of articles about the council; and not one addresses the fact that Twitter are basically sanctioning disability hate crime on their platform by not being interested in tackling disablist abuse.”

One disabled campaigner who contacted Disability News Service told how she was subjected to the following tweet: “You’re just a disabled bitch that should be put down. nothing but a lazy workshy, scrounger.”

She said the person was subsequently banned by Twitter “for about an hour”.

Another disabled activist was called “spastic”, “retard” and “cretin” during a short Twitter exchange.

Another was called a “fucking freak”, and told: “You should be in a care home and not let out without mental health carers you’re a danger to the public you’re mentally retarded.”

One prominent online disabled activist, Ella Sumpter, was forced to block several Twitter-users who subjected her to abuse, often suggesting she was “faking” her impairments and claiming benefits fraudulently.

Although this happened three years ago, one referred to her “designer diseases”, said she had a “severe case of spazzeritus”, and called her a “benefit scrounging wanker”, before adding: “Now I hate disabled people because some benefits scrounging cunt can’t be arsed to get up. Fuck right off. How many starving Africans have ME.”

David Gillon, an online disabled activist, monitored the disablist abuse that followed the screening of Channel Four’s Benefits Britain: 1949, for a blog he wrote in August 2013.

He said that tweets that featured the #BenefitsBritain hashtag included: “Funny how it’s the fat, foul mouthed bint with illness u can fake that is the one with the issues,” “Luckily for these slackers, it’s difficult to prove ‘pain’,” and “#Motability What clown thought this idea up? Free cars for bone idle, lard-arses.”

Many #BenefitsBritain responses even threatened violence, such as: “I’d quite happily kick the shit out of that fat, lazy fucker!!”, “Take the cane off that woman and beat her over the head with it,” and “Utterly contemptuous cow. I hope she really does become confined by her ailments. Permanently. In a wooden box.”

Gillon said that Twitter had a “lackadaisical approach” to stopping online abuse in general, despite being forced to improve its procedures following the harassment of a number of high-profile women’s rights campaigners.

He said that Twitter’s page that deals with online abuse gives “the definite impression they don’t want to be bothered with it”.

He said: “First they tell you unwanted replies are legitimate, then that you should block the person, and that if it escalates to threats, contact the police.

“There is no coverage of harassment and abuse short of threats of violence.

“Buried just below that, with no separate header, is: ‘You can report the contact to Twitter here.’

“If I was trying to hide the link to minimize use, that’s exactly how I would do it.

“Then it tells you to ‘reach out’ to friends or relatives to help you deal with it, which I think amounts to victim blaming.”

He also pointed out that Twitter’s form that allows users to report harassment does not provide a clear option for reporting hate speech.

He said: “Twitter need to be more pro-active, and they need a report form that actually allows us to report hate speech.”

Twitter has refused to comment.

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