Charlie Warzel of Buzzfeed has written a long piece about Twitter's apparently inability to prevent neo-Nazis, rape apologists, death threats, and racism from flourishing on the platform.
In 2013, Caroline Criado-Perez launched a campaign to put Jane Austen on UK currency and quickly became the target of more than 50 rape threats per hour — which forced Twitter to roll out a “report abuse” feature for individual tweets. The feature came roughly six years into the company’s history and more than five years after [Ariel] Waldman’s ordeal. “It feels like, not only did they have opportunities early on to tackle this, but they had the ability to step up and be a leader in this space — to be proactive instead of reactive,” Waldman said. “That they haven’t done that is beyond me and it’s reckless.”
Around that time, high-profile harassment cases became a weekly, if not daily, occurrence, especially in the UK. Sinéad O’Connor was driven off the service in 2011; she later told the Daily Mail she was “getting too much abuse.” Downton Abbey actor Lily James quit after she became the target of hundreds of hateful tweets about her appearance. Actor Matt Lucas had to shut down his account after trolls wouldn’t stop harassing him after the death of his partner.
In the US, stories of Twitter harassment of women, people of color, and religious minorities appeared with increasing frequency, coming to a head in August 2014, when Robin Williams’ daughter Zelda was forced to quit Twitter after trolls flooded her mentions with photoshopped images of her recently deceased father. Williams’ departure from Twitter went viral and prompted Twitter’s Trust and Safety head, Del Harvey, to condemn the attacks. “We will not tolerate abuse of this nature,” she said, noting that the company would work to find policy fixes to prevent cases like Williams’.
It was also around this time that Twitter began broadcasting grisly ISIS beheadings and Gamergate’s multipronged misogynist harassment campaign toward female gamers. Harvey’s team rolled out more streamlined forms for reporting abuse, dispensing with its cumbersome nine-part questionnaire and adding back-end flagging tools for Twitter’s Trust and Safety team. One month later, Anita Sarkeesian, a feminist writer and video game critic, took to her Tumblr page and posted 157 of examples of misogyny, gendered insults, victim blaming, incitement to suicide, and rape and death threats she’d received in a recent six-day stretch on Twitter. Despite the overtures from Twitter, the trolls were winning.