Why it’s time for Twitter to act against hate speech
As a magazine and online news site publisher, I am fully committed to freedom of speech and freedom of the press. These are the freedoms which, to me, enshrine what democracy is all about: the freedom to be able to speak your mind without the fear of censorship, retribution or prosecution. I, like most people born and raised in democracies, hold these freedoms dear.
But it is a fallacy to suggest that these freedoms are absolute. With rights come responsibility, and freedom of speech is mitigated by legislation prohibiting slander, libel and incitement to violence.
“Social media is the ultimate tool of free speech, and it can be a wonderful thing”
Social media is the ultimate tool of free speech, and it can be a wonderful thing. Little more than a decade ago, dissemination of news and views was limited to the mainstream press and the broadcast media. Now, anyone can share their lives, their news and their opinions with thousands – sometimes millions of people – from the phone in their pocket.
This doesn’t mean that we have a free for all. Facebook – considered by some as rather puritan – often removes photographs of breastfeeding mothers, topless sunbathers and, famously, classical statues of nudes showing male genitalia, and yet their counterparts over at Twitter are somewhat more laissez-faire.
“A constantly recurring Twitter theme is homophobic, biphobic and transphobic abuse”
A constantly recurring Twitter theme is homophobic, biphobic and transphobic abuse, most of which is so vile and disgusting that it’s impossible to reproduce here. Much emanates from the accounts of small, fundamentalist religious groups, and some comes from vicious, nasty individuals. Several tweets incite violence towards the gay, lesbian and trans communities.
This is a real issue with serious repercussions. LGBT 15-24 year olds are four times as likely as their heterosexual counterparts to have suicidal thoughts or to commit suicide, and there is a far greater incidence of self-harming, poor mental health and drug addiction. The reasons for this are complex and I am not suggesting for one moment that these issues could be solved by some people being nicer on Twitter but, in the ‘always on’ digital age, the almost constant barrage of hate can only have a detrimental effect on those who are already vulnerable, unsure of their place in the world and very possibly alone and ostracised. It is not being overdramatic to say that hate speech can kill, and if such hate speech were delivered in real life rather than online, we wouldn’t be having this conversation as the perpetrators would be dragged off to a police cell on any number of possible charges.
“The almost constant barrage of hate can only have a detrimental effect on those who are already vulnerable”
That’s why, just a few days ago, I launched the #no2LGBTHate campaign on Thunderclap, calling on Twitter to monitor and, where necessary, act against homophobic, biphobic and transphobic hate speech. Let’s face it: if Facebook can remove a photo of a sunbather in tight trunks within seconds (true), it cannot be beyond the wits of Twitter to take similar action against transgressors whose crimes, by any reasonable measure, are far worse than simply posting a slightly risqué beach photograph.
A Thunderclap campaign sends a Twitter and Facebook message at a pre-set time – in our case 4pm GMT on 1st February – to all the followers of everyone who has signed up at www.no2LGBTHate.com. At the time of writing, we have over 800 supporters with a social media reach of over 4,000,000 meaning that – even nobody else signs up – 800 people will be simultaneously messaging 4,000,000 people with the message “We need Twitter to silence LGBT hate. Homophobia, biphobia and transphobia have no place online #no2LGBTHate”.
“We need Twitter to silence LGBT hate”
With 19 days to go, I’m hoping that this is just the start. Our 800 supporters were gathered in just three days, and we’re now getting attention from all over the world. Here in the UK we have politicians, LGBT media, campaigners, celebrities and even peers of the realm voicing their support for us, signing up to the Thunderclap campaign and urging their own social media followers to do the same.
So I am appealing to everyone reading this: please take a couple of minutes to visit www.no2LGBTHate.com and join our campaign. It’s going to take a lot to get a multi-billion dollar concern like Twitter to sit up and take notice, but we’re going to give it a bloody good go and, the more supporters we have, the more likely we are to succeed.