British police on Sunday arrested a man in connection with online threats made toward a feminist campaigner, a case which has ignited calls for social media platforms to institute stronger protections against verbal abuse.
Caroline Criado-Perez says she has been facing a deluge of abuse — including threats to rape and kill her — over Twitter during the past several days. She said the threats started after her campaign to get a woman's picture on a U.K. bank note succeeded and resulted in the Bank of England's announcement last week that author Jane Austen will feature on England's new 10-pound notes.
In Britain, hundreds of people are prosecuted every year for Facebook posts, tweets, texts and emails deemed menacing, indecent, offensive or obscene. But while there have been several cases of online threats directed at sports figures and politicians, the verbal assault against Criado-Perez appears to have ignited an unrivalled response and backlash against Twitter itself.
The graphic and offensive threats come as combatting the scourge of violence against women has taken on a more public sense of urgency worldwide, when tales of gang rapes in India and Brazil circulated around the world. Earlier this year, more than 130 nations agreed on a U.N. blueprint to combat violence against women, "one of the gravest violations of human rights in the world," according to Michelle Bachelet, the head of the U.N. women's agency.
The head of the World Health Organization, Dr. Margaret Chen, too, called violence against women "a global health problem of epidemic proportions" when the first major global review of violence against women came out in June — a description that Criado-Perez drew on when writing in the New Statesman about the abuse directed against her. She urged Chen to "take a look at Twitter."
Already, Criado-Perez's experience has set off a campaign and petition to press Twitter to take more action to combat online threats.
Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper urged Twitter to carry out a full review of its policies on abusive threats and crimes, and a petition urging Twitter to introduce a "button" that would make it easier to report abusive Tweets has garnered 12,000 signatures.
On Sunday, British police arrested a 21-year-old man, who wasn't immediately identified, in relation to Criado-Perez's case.
She posted on Twitter that she was at a police station to make a statement and had many more threats to report — followed by the hashtag "shouting back."