Proof Online Harassment Policies Need To Change

by Emma Cueto

If you were looking for a reason to take even more chunks out of your faith for humanity, you've come to the right place — as you can probably guess by the fact that I'm placing a mild trigger warning for transphobia and discussion of suicide here. Recently someone used a promoted tweet to tell trans people to kill themselves. And just for bonus points, it also includes a slur. Yep, good job humanity.

It's unclear who this delightful person might have been, but the account seems to have been intended to impersonate feminist writer Caitlin Roper. It has since been suspended by Twitter (thankfully), but while still active, it used Twitter's promoted tweet system to pay for a transphobic tweet to show up in people's timelines. Because apparently some people aren't just content to keep their hate-filled ignorance confined to the corner, away from others.

The full tweet, which is upsetting on several levels, read. "Tr*nnies, your families will never love you. You are living a lie & you know it. End your miserable existence. Commit Suicide now." I'd be impressed someone was able to fit so much bigotry into 140 characters if I weren't so busy wanting to just go ahead and burn the world down, now.

Plenty of people who saw the tweet were also upset, and immediately reported the account.

Others were also quick to point out that the account, @Caitlin_Roperr was not associated with the real feminist writer Caitlin Roper.

Fortunately, once people did begin reporting the account it was quickly suspended.

However, that doesn't change how awful it was such a tweet was allowed to be promoted in the first place. Telling people to kill themselves is never acceptable, and directing such comments at trans people is particularly deplorable, given the high rate of suicide in the trans community. Allowing someone to actively try to spread a message that could cost someone their lives is unacceptable.

And as other Twitter users pointed out, this isn't the first time people have used promoted tweets to spread hate.

In a statement to the Daily Dot, Twitter remarked, "Twitter does not allow the promotion of hate content, including hate speech against a group based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Once this instace was flagged, we immediately suspended the account and stopped the campaign." And it is great that Twitter acted so quickly to shut this account down. Really, though, they should start trying to stop these kinds of attacks before they happen.

One of the things that's most upsetting about this whole incident is the fact that whatever safeguards Twitter has in place completely and utterly failed here. I can understand how social media platforms might have a hard time coming up with policies and practices that both allow all people to express their opinions while also protecting users from harassment and hate speech; indeed, Twitter even admitted in February, "We suck at handling abuse." But when it comes to promoted tweets, the process should be easier — just make sure promoted tweets are checked before they're approved. At the bare minimum, there should be some algorithm that can to pick up on slurs and phrases like "kill yourselves."

It's also worth noting that this isn't the first time Caitlin Roper has had her name and image used without her permission to such ends. She told the Daily Dot that last year, a man made an exact copy of her Twitter profile, right down to the photo and bio, and "used it to offer [her] up for sex online." This kind of harassment is common enough that she even commented on its typical form: "Usually it's in the form of general hostility, unwelcome sexual comments, or threats of rape and violence."

So: We have the targeting and harassment both of transgender people as a group and of Caitlin Roper individually — and it was only stopped when other users reported it, despite the use of language that an algorithm should easily be able shut down before it hits the Internet.

Hopefully this and other incidents will prompt Twitter to screen their promoted tweets more carefully, because the potential for abuse in the system is truly horrific otherwise. Just imagine teens using promoted tweets to single out individuals to bully, for instance, humiliating peers on a wide scale. Imagine people using promoted tweets to share private information or images without consent. And we don't have to imagine what it looks like when people direct hate speech at various groups.