August 19, 2013, by ICCSR

Twitter and Freedom from Fear

The use of Twitter to communicate bomb, death and rape threats, and engage in misogynistic speech, has been brought to the fore in recent weeks. This relates to a number of high profile cases in which prominent female figures – such as Labour MP Stella Creasy, the feminist campaigner Caroline Criado-Perez, and the Guardian journalist Hadley Freeman – have been subject to abuse on the micro-blogging platform.

On Saturday August 3rd, Twitter UK used their UK Blog to respond to recent events, and stated that ‘people deserve to feel safe on Twitter’. They also noted that they have updated ‘Twitter Rules to clarify that… [they] do not tolerate abusive behaviour’; have introduced an ‘in-Tweet report button so that users can ‘report abusive behaviour directly from a Tweet’; and that they ‘will work with the UK Safer Internet Centre to expand our user resources on digital citizenship and staying safe online’.

Nevertheless, on Sunday August 4th, there was a widely publicised day-long Twitter boycott. The boycott appears to have had three overlapping objectives. One, to demonstrate widespread public concern over the use of the micro-blogging site to engage in frightening, misogynistic, and extremely anti-social behaviour. Two, to reduce the attention that internet trolls feed off when engaging in hateful speech (if only for one day). Three, to place pressure on Twitter to do more to ensure that the on-line citizenship arena they directly control is deemed safe.

These events highlight some of the most fundamentally important issues in corporate and governmental responsibility: i.e. physical security, freedom from fear, and the need for social order. They also raise a number of questions. For example:

  • Should states, corporations, or both, provide for such fundamental political goods?
  • How will rumours of Twitter’s imminent Initial Public Offering (IPO) impact upon their concerns to make Twitter ‘safe’?
  • Can fundamental social norms in the physical world be applied and/or translated for social communication and interaction online?

In addition to its immediate importance, then, the recent controversy involving Twitter points towards a broader set of fundamental political issues. Those in the CSR community are likely to pay increasing attention to them in the years ahead.

By Dr Glen Whelan, Lecturer in Business Ethics
International Centre for Corporate Social Responsibility, Nottingham University Business School

Image by Eric Fisher.  Red dots are locations of Flickr pictures.  Blue dots are locations of Twitter tweets.  White dots are locations that have been posted to both. Reproduced under creative commons license (CC BY 2.0) source:

Posted in THEMES in Better Business