Twitter Clamps down on Abuse and Hate Crime
Ama Williams, Newcastle University
Online abuse on social media platforms is endemic. The majority of people who frequent social media will have either seen or been the victim of some form of abuse. Last week Twitter introduced provisions to try and tackle online abuse and instances of hate crime – that is, abuse targeted toward someone because of their membership of a particular social group. It has now added ‘Advanced Muting Options’ to the previous option to mute accounts. This means that a user can block certain words or phrases from appearing in their personal notifications, in the hope that this will shield the user from abuse being targeted specifically at them. However there is some concern that these measures do not actually stop hate speech being posted and due to the anonymity Twitter affords to its users, abuse may continue to be prolific.
Recent reports have shown that abuse online is on the increase. Pink News reported that there has been an online spike of homophobia since Donald Trump’s victory in the presidential race. In one instance a homophobic word increased from being tweeted 8,000 times to 32,000 times in the day after his win. In England, abuse of women in positions of power is inherent on many platforms but social media seems to breed particularly depraved forms of hatred. In an interview with The Times Tulip Siddiq, the Muslim Labour MP for Hampstead and Kilburn, commented that abuse against women MPs is ‘regular’ and that even the birth of her daughter prompted some online trolls to take to Twitter to insult her. It has also emerged that MP Jo Cox was subjected to online harassment in the months prior to her murder. A recent study showed that footballer Daniel Sturridge was sent 1,600 discriminatory posts, more than 60% of these were abuse on the grounds of sexual orientation.
The reaction to the advanced muting options from Twitter users themselves has been varied. One user tweeted “FINALLY Twitter has added advanced muting options to mute key words. I wish they had done it during the elections’’. Other users have been quick to point out that the muted words will still appear on their timelines, implying that the new options are somewhat ineffective. One user tweeted “@twitter I demand a more advanced approach to mute words in the timeline too, it’ll save a lot of trouble.’’ With a study showing out of 134,000 abusive social media mentions 88% of these happen on Twitter, it is yet to be seen whether these new measures will have any significant effect.
Women fleeing armed conflict in their home countries continue to face disproportionate threats to their safety in Europe
Christel Querton, PhD candidate at Newcastle Law School
In early November 2016, a delegation of the Women’s Rights Committee of the European Parliament visited refugee camps around Athens and concluded that insecurity and threats faced by women refugees were far greater than those faced by men. There is a high risk of sexual exploitation and human trafficking. Other issues include lack of separate bathrooms and high levels of domestic violence. This is particularly concerning as many of those refugees have fled gender-based violence in their home country and the number of forcibly displaced persons has recently increased significantly.
By the end of 2015 there were more than 65 million forcibly displaced persons in the world, the highest number recorded yet and more than one million persons arrived in the European Union (‘EU’) by crossing the Mediterranean Sea that year. More than half of arrivals originated from Syria, followed by Afghanistan and Iraq, countries characterised by armed conflict and generalised violence. Women and girls accounted for approximately 27.7% of main asylum applicants and as a family member of such an application. Since January 2016, 27% of arrivals by sea are children and 18% are women. The combined figure increases significantly to over 55% when looking at all arrivals.
As the number of persons fleeing their home country to seek safety in Europe increases so does the death toll in the Mediterranean, in particular on the Libya to Italy route. Those who survive crossing the Mediterranean are confronted with reception systems in Member States such as Greece and Italy that have been unable to cope with their arrival.
The EU Fundamental Rights Agency has highlighted safety and protection at reception facilities as one of four priorities for the EU in light of reports of abuse and sexual assault. The Agency reported on the absence of specific mechanisms to prevent gender-based violence in detention or reception facilities in most Member States contrary to the provisions of the EU Reception Directive, which establishes the standard of treatment that asylum-seekers are owed by Member States during the process of determination of their protection claim. The Directive also provides that Member States should take into account the specific situation of victims of rape or other forms of psychological, physical or sexual violence when implementing all aspects covered by the Directive.
An Initial Assessment Report by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, United Nations Population Fund (‘UNPFA’) and the Women’s Refugee Commission found that women refugees in Greece and Macedonia face grave protection risks and that the current response by governments, humanitarian actors, EU institutions and agencies and civil society organisations are inadequate. This is an issue that also affects children, travelling alone or with their families. The Assessment found that all of the interviewees fled due to war, armed conflict, persecution or sexual and gender-based violence in their country of origin. Overall, the report concluded that risks to their safety did not decrease with flight and that threats of gender-based violence including trafficking and exploitation existed at all stages of the journey, including after their arrival in the EU.
This finding was confirmed by an Amnesty International report showing that women refugees face violence, assault, exploitation and sexual harassment at every stage of the journey to Europe. The UNPFA has found that a high number of Syrian women arriving in the EU are pregnant and many of these pregnancies are unwanted often due to the lack of access to contraception, forced marriages, trafficking and as the result of rapes.
The findings of the delegation visit to Athens in November 2016 demonstrate that these problems remain. Constance Le Grip MEP, who headed the delegation, stated that the EU Directive on Preventing and Combating Trafficking was incorrectly transposed into Member States’ legislation, incorrectly applied or not relied on at all.
The Fundamental Rights Agency has undertaken research on the extent of EU Member States’ compliance with their obligations and responsibilities under EU law. Despite the scope of the problem the Agency reported that none of the Member States investigated could provide statistics on the extent of violence against newly arrived women. The report found that despite having some measures in place to address gender-based violence, only a few Member States have procedures that address the response to gender-based violence in a comprehensive and coordinated manner. The Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights has called on Member States to do better to protect the rights of women and girl refugees.
Instead of finding solutions to the issue, EU Member States have attempted to limit physical access to their territories, restricted access to the asylum procedure, reduced the length of international protection residence permits and placed limitation on refugee family reunification procedures.
Whilst new EU legislation on asylum is being considered it is essential that EU Member States ensure the protection of those who have fled armed conflict and generalised violence. As shown by recent research, there is a real need to ensure that reception facilities adequately respond to the needs of women who have suffered gender-based violence in their search for international protection in the EU. The fact that the EU only received asylum applications from approximately 1.6% of persons displaced in the world in 2015 makes this failure particularly flagrant.
Tampon Tax Protests in Zurich: Feminist group Aktivistin.ch turn city’s fountains blood red
Christina Lau, Newcastle University
On the 4th October, 13 of Zurich’s fountains were found to be spouting red as part of a tampon tax demonstration in Switzerland. The #happytobleed protest aimed to incite national discussion about attitudes towards women’s bodies. Feminist organization Aktivistin.ch describes people’s perspectives toward menstruation to be taboo, believing it to be shameful and the tendency to keep quiet about it.
Everyday items in Switzerland are taxed at a 2.5% rate while tampons and sanitary pads are taxed at a luxury rate of 8% placing them on par with luxury goods. The state is accused of financial discrimination by putting women at a disadvantage because of their biology. On average, a woman has 444 periods throughout their lifetime, and Aktivistin.ch calls out authorities on giving the impression that menstrual sanitary products are not a real need. Spokeswoman for the group Carmen Schoder said they wanted to “fight for the right of self-determined sexuality for all genders”.
The protestors also sought to place emphasis on gender pricing, a concern affecting all women. Commonly known as the ‘pink tax’ where products for women frequently have a higher price to men’s; women’s toiletries like razors and moisturizers are on average 13% more expensive.
The Zurich authorities have criticized the demonstration, denouncing the use of the public fountains for the publicity stunt. Misusing public property is not generally something to approve of; however, in this case, the bleeding fountains all over the city was an incredibly creative approach, generating an effective shock factor that managed to grab public attention and headlines for such a meaningful cause.
Could Trump’s new appointees force conversion therapy on the American LGBT community?
Megan King, Newcastle University
With conversion therapy only being prohibited in 6 states, could Trump becoming the new president of the United States of America leave the LGBT community in danger of being forced towards conversion therapy in attempts to make them heterosexual?
Conversion therapy is not only promoted in the republican party but it is something Trump’s new vice president Mike Pence actively supports. Pence is set to be the most homophobic politician to enter the white house in history as he has not supported one single LGBT-friendly reform in 2 decades. On a 2000 Congressional campaign website, he wrote supporting conversion therapy that “the reauthorisation of HIV funding should no longer be given to organisations that celebrate and encourage the types of behaviours that facilitate the spreading of HIV ” and that “these resources should be directed toward those institutions which aid those seeking to change their sexual behaviour.”
Worryingly Mike Pence isn’t the only one of Trump’s appointees to support conversion therapy. Ken Blackwell who is to head domestic policy during the transition has made statements that homosexuality is a sin, a choice and homosexuals can be rehabilitated, endorsing conversion therapy. Blackwell has made statements that being homosexual is a “transgression against God’s law” and has likened gay people to petty thieves and fire-setters that can be rehabilitated.
It is almost impossible to imagine how the appointment of these two men is accepted in the 21st century as their views on the LGBT community could affect so many people. Further, these opinions strongly contradict what the US has previously done to challenge and limit conversion therapy. In 2015 the Obama administration showed disapproval of conversion therapy after Leelah Alcorn, a 17 year transgender teen, took her life in Ohio after being forced by her parents to undergo conversion counselling. Sadly, this is not a rare situation, as other negative consequences also arise from conversion therapy such as drug abuse, HIV infection and depression.
In total, six states have banned conversion therapy for minors, and the governor of New York also issued an executive order banning the exposure of minors to conversion therapy which involved discomforting patients through induced vomiting or electric shocks, whilst showing homo-erotic images. Also a New Jersey judge ruled that a conversion therapy group called JONAH had violated the state’s consumer protection statute by false advertising a cure for being gay, as expert opinion and evidence suggests you cannot ‘cure’ homosexuals.
In an attempt to limit support for conversion therapy, Patrick Burke, a legislator for the Erie County has designed a bill to prevent it titled “The Prevention of Emotional Neglect and Childhood Endangerment”, which is PENCE for short. Burke argues that although some people were upset about the acronym and thought he was trying to be ‘cute’ he explains these are serious times for the LBGT community. Burke argues that Mike Pence is going to have the most power of any vice president in history and that people need to realise that conversion therapy is a serious issue of abuse and that this man advocates it. He adds “this practice has no business in our society and the idea of trying to sexually desensitise children is disgusting”. His bill is due to be debated next year but has faced opposition on the grounds conversion therapy isn’t currently practiced in Erie County.
A 19-year-old, TC, spoke to the Huffington Post anonymously about his experience of conversion therapy in 2012 when he was just 15 years old. He explains how the conversion therapy took place in a basement of a church after school and involved a two-step process. The first step involved aversion therapy, shock therapy, harassment and occasional physical abuse and was designed to deconstruct those involved as a person and to make them hate themselves for being LBGT. The second step involved rebuilding these people and removing them of everything that made them a unique person. TC outlines that they were re-taught how to walk, talk, dress and behave and were no longer people at the end of the programme.
He states the conversion therapy was “literal torture” and that many people on the programme took their own lives as they shared “a sense of loathing towards who they were”. TC managed to escape the programme by feigning rehabilitation and sends a message to Mike Pence that he “is a human and should be treated like one”. This chilling account of conversion therapy clearly outlines how much of a risk the LGBT community is facing with people like Mike Pence in power supporting conversion therapy.
So will Mike Pence and Ken Blackwell be able to force conversion therapy on the LGBT community? Only time will tell, but it seems unlikely they will be allowed to impose such a disturbing programme on the people of America.