I recently wrote a story about “#Gamergate,” the movement — if you can call it that — to prove that video game journalism is corrupt, and it reminded me that Twitter has a huge problem that few of its main competitors do.
I won’t get into the pros and cons of Gamergate here. But just so you understand how this links to Twitter, here is a minimal amount of background: Hardcore video gamers have disliked much of the criticism their games have received for being sexist (think of the hookers who appear in Grand Theft Auto). Some female game developers and video game critics have begun receiving death threats from gamers. Anita Sarkeesian, a feminist video blogger cancelled a lecture at Utah State University when the campus received a threat that there would be a shooting if she spoke. Another female game developer was threatened with rape.
My story made one simple point: That sending death threats to women who are critics of video games is wrong.
You wouldn’t think that was a controversial position to take.
Twitter is rife with death threat apologists, it turns out.
Instantly, my Twitter account was deluged with Gamergate people trying to prove me wrong and questioning my ethics and integrity. I didn’t get any actual death threats, but I did get a lot of feedback like this:
A large part of the Gamergate defence of Gamergate can be summarized like this: “Death threats are just trolls. Get over it. This is the internet. LOLS.”
Here’s another example, from the comments section under my story:
Even if this argument is true, it underscores just how bad, how quickly, life can get on Twitter. I have not enjoyed being insulted on Twitter for the last few days. I’m on Twitter professionally, of course, so I’m not pretending that I can’t “take it.”
But it isn’t fun.
And you don’t get this sort of thing on Twitter’s various peers and competitors: Facebook, LinkedIn, Snapchat, WhatsApp, Messenger and so on. They have identity controls in place that Twitter does not.
That, it turns out, is crucial. On Twitter, you can instantly find yourself the target of anonymous trolls — thousands of them — who want to make your life miserable even though they don’t know you. God knows what Zoe Quinn’s Twitter stream is like right now. Quinn is the woman who is at Ground Zero of Gamergate because she had the temerity to have sex with a video game journalist instead of a computer scientist who works with robots — I am not making this up.
Quinn was forced out of her house by anonymous threats.
This happens a lot. The daughter of BBC presenters Richard Madeley and Judy Finnegan was the target of Twitter rape threats this week because her mother dared to suggest that a football player who had served his time in prison for a sexual assault be allowed to go back to his old job upon his release. The “Twitter death/rape threat” is so common, it’s a media meme.
This isn’t Twitter’s fault, but this is an issue for Twitter. The company does cancel and delete the accounts of people who abuse others on Twitter. But if you’re someone like Quinn, it’s probably laborious to list every single Twitter account that needs to be examined for threats.
Twitter is having trouble growing its monthly average user base. It has 271 million users, far behind Facebook’s 1.3 billion and WhatsApp’s 600 million. Snapchat and Instagram are newer companies and their platforms are growing faster than Twitter.
There is something about the Twitter environment that puts people off. Lots of things, actually — the app has a number of user-experience issues, from new registrations to contact following, that CEO Dick Costolo is racing to address.
It puts me off, too, and I own stock in the company. I get that it’s a big, public platform. But it’s a user-experience issue when your environment on Twitter can go from “fun party” to “vigilante mob nightmare” in minutes, simply because you express one opinion that a lot of people disagree with.
I’d love to see Twitter fix this.
Disclosure: The author owns Twitter stock.