The Woman Who Got Jane Austen on British Money Wants to Change How Twitter Handles Abuse

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Meet Caroline Criado-Perez. She led a successful campaign to get a woman, aside from the Queen, on British banknotes, after prison-reformer Elisabeth Fry was "retired" from the currency (the people honored on British notes regularly change) in favor of Winston Churchill earlier this year. Days ago, the Bank of England announced that Jane Austen would become the new face of the ten-pound note in the country, replacing Charles Darwin. And now, for days, she's faced rape and death threats on Twitter that were so bad that one person's been arrested over them

After the Bank of England announced Jane Austen's new honor on Wednesday, Craido-Perez started getting "about 50 abusive tweets an hour for about 12 hours," she said. While she did report many tweets to the police, the activist, who runs an organization dedicated to increasing the presence of female experts in the media, also attempted to report the abuse to Twitter directly, hoping that the social network would suspend the accounts in question. Twitter, however, has what many see as a bit of a cumbersome process for abuse reports, especially if you're trying to fill them out in bulk. Here's the form you'd use for each instance of abuse: 

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Twitter then reviews each report, and takes action accordingly. Not feeling like Twitter was acting soon enough, or that she could keep up with the deluge of threats herself, Craido-Perez started a campaign in the U.K. to ask Twitter to add a "report abuse" button to individual Tweets. The petition now has 50,000 signatures, thanks in part to the support of some British politicians and celebs. And it looks like Twitter might be listening. Here's the head of Twitter UK: 

The "report" button is already available on Twitter for iPhone. 

The act of adding an "abuse" button itself wouldn't really change Twitter's policy on offensive content on the network — instead, it represents one possible solution to enforcing that policy, better (though we should note that Craido-Perez would also like to see a review of Twitter's terms of use). But responding with a broad, proactive development to the campaign would be a change, in a way, for Twitter, who've previously encouraged users to go to the police for action against abusive users.

In the U.K. in particular, abusive tweeters can face legal consequences for their words, something that was debated heavily around the 2012 Olympics after one user was arrested for threatening Olympic diver Tom Daley over the network. Twitter, meanwhile, has been more hands-off in policing its users' words. Their rules ban threats, pornography, and the posting of private information, but not generically offensive or objectionable content. The idea poses a practical problem for Twitter, as well: given how slowly Craido-Perez says Twitter responded to the activist's form-submitted instances of abuse, it's plausible that the site would need to substantially beef up their monitoring capacity to handle a thorough review of reports from an easier system. The company has attempted to balance censorship and the needs of its users before, to mixed results, such as an earlier roll-out of country-by-country limitations of some tweets

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.