Twitter has proven itself to be an embarrassment, after having suspended the account of actress Rose McGowan following her use of Twitter to speak out against the sexual harassment of women in Hollywood. McGowan is among the names associated with the sexual harassment allegations held against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein.
Now, it is important to note that Twitter did not manually shut down Rose McGowan’s account. It was through the site’s anti-abuse algorithms that the suspension was triggered. This in and of itself highlights a major problem with Twitter. This is a site that is willing to allow users utter unspeakable statements of harassment towards women and that allows accounts to spread messages of racism and discrimination of all varieties. Yet, when Rose McGowan protests the mistreatment of women in Hollywood and the sexual harassment culture that persists in that realm, Twitter shuts her down.
Though her account has been reinstated, the silencing of a victim of sexual harassment reveals a lot about Twitter’s culture and the ways in which Twitter has built its algorithms.
When some accounts have contacted Twitter regarding hate speech and threats of rape against them, Twitter’s response has traditionally been that such comments does not violate the site’s community standards. This highlights a clear case of an infrastructure that does not respect women, that does not encourage women to come forward when they are being harassed, and that openly allows such harassment to continue. Despite Twitter’s rules stating clearly that targeted abuse, the harassment of others, and direct or indirect violent threats would not be tolerated, the social media platform has sent a very different message to victims.
It is important to note that McGowan’s accusations were settled out of court with Harvey Weinstein in 1997. Primarily, at the time of her suspension, her posts were in support of other women coming out with their own stories of sexual abuse. In addition, she was using the platform to attack those who had been supportive of Weinstein or who had been deemed complicit in the culture of male-dominated power in Hollywood.
Twitter has allowed this type of abuse for years and has never sought and/or been able to effectively establish a different culture. Twitter’s flawed leadership has relied on algorithms to an unhealthy degree. Blaming the algorithm is an elementary response by anyone from above and there should be a clear objective in place on improving Twitter culture.
As many press releases and commitments as Twitter may share publicly, until its abuse problem is clearly addressed, this social media platform still warrants sufficient criticism. For years, Twitter has published threats of rape, violence, and abuse, and has, at times, failed to protect, highlight, and allowed victims of these threats to voice their statements publicly. It is clear with the Rose McGowan block that these algorithms need to change, the culture needs to change, and if these things are not possible, maybe it is time that the leadership has to change.