Scotland Yard Investigates Twitter Threats Against Stella Creasy MP

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In response, Twitter announces it will introduce a ‘report’ button on individual tweets

Stella Creasy, Labour MP for Walthamstow, has turned to seek help from police after receiving a stream of abuse on Twitter, including threats of physical and sexual violence.

Creasy had become a target for threats after she expressed support for Caroline Criado-Perez, another victim of online abuse who successfully campaigned to put an image of Jane Austen on a £10 banknote.

The hate campaign waged by anonymous Internet ‘trolls’ has put the spotlight on Twitter. Users have criticised the microblogging platform for its slow response and the complexity of the reporting process.

police-twitter-lAfter several days of silence, Twitter has reacted by promising to include a simple ‘report’ button on every tweet. “We are not blind to the reality that there will always be people using Twitter in ways that are abusive and may harm others,” read a statement on the Twitter blog.

A petition calling for Twitter to add a ‘report abuse’ button, launched on Saturday, has so far attracted almost 70,000 signatures.

Mob mentality

It has been a difficult few days for Twitter. First, the trolls attacked Claire Perry MP, the woman who masterminded the ’opt-out’ adult content filter plans, announced by the Prime Minister last week.

Then, the angry mob switched to freelance journalist and feminist campaigner Criado-Perez, who launched the petition to feature more women on banknotes. And on Monday, police confirmed they were investigating threatening messages sent to Creasy, including rape threats.

Rather than ignoring the tweets and blocking their authors, the MP had engaged the trolls, told them she was logging the threats and retweeted some messages to her 30,000 followers and the Waltham Forest police station. She even started a special hashtag, #takebacktwitter.

Meanwhile, Criado-Perez appeared on Newsnight on Monday, admitting that the threats have made her feel vulnerable, but they wouldn’t drive her “off the Internet”. Police have already questioned a 21-year-old man in connection with threats to Criado-Perez.

Both women have criticised the way Twitter has handled the situation. Creasy said it was difficult to get in touch with the representatives of the company, and filling in the reporting forms took too much time. Even after Twitter suspended some accounts, it was obvious that their users were just creating new accounts and continuing with their assault.

“Free speech is incredibly important on and offline, but it’s not free speech for someone to be threatened with rape. We have to have ways of dealing with that and we mustn’t misunderstand the level of cyberharassment taking place in this country,” said Creasy during an interview on BBC Radio 4. Twitter engineering

In response, Twitter has announced plans to include a button for reporting abuse within every tweet, a feature currently present in its iOS app, but not online or on other mobile platforms.

“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,” wrote Del Harvey, senior director of trust and safety at Twitter.

Jim Killock, executive director of the Open Rights Group, warned that any solution achieved through the online platform will be “inadequate,” and suggested it is the job of the law enforcement agencies to deal with threats.

“Depending on the volume of complaints, abuse buttons would use automated sifting techniques. Thus they could be prone to abuse, or at the very least, mistakes. This may not mean that they are irrelevant, but they may not be as useful as is hoped,” he said.

“In the case of victims of harassment, the police need to investigate, arrest and prosecute offenders. No doubt, after a few cases, people would start to avoid crossing a line.”

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