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British Twitter chief apologizes for abuse of women on website

Website promises to install new features following spate of nasty comments against femenist activist

Twitter UK's general manager Tony Wang on Sunday issued a personal apology to women who've recently experience abuse at the hands of 'trolls' on the microblogging website. Twitter has come under increasing pressure in recent days after a successful campaign to place a female face on British money, made feminist activist Caroline Criado-Perez a target of misogynistic tweets, including over 50 threats of rape.

"I personally apologize to the women who have experienced abuse on Twitter and for what they have gone through," Wang said on his personal twitter feed. "The abuse they've received is simply not acceptable. It's not acceptable in the real world, and it's not acceptable on Twitter." Wang did not address the Criado-Perez affair directly in his statement.

The abuse targeting Criado-Perez has dominated British headlines, sparking a debate over ways to combat it. The abuse began in earnest after the Bank of England announced that Jane Austen would be the face of the 10-pound bank note. The decision ended a lengthy campaign by Criado-Perez but also set off the wave hateful tweets.

In order to bring attention to her dilemma, Criado-Perez began to re-tweet the threats, and explained that Twitter's current "block and ignore" strategy was unhelpful at stemming this wide-spread wave of vitriol. She petitioned Twitter to install a "report abuse" option. The idea quickly gained traction among other prominent feminists, who have frequently found themselves the target of misogynist attacks on Twitter.

Blocking another user prevents them from following or responding to tweets, ending correspondence. However, this method does not result in any repercussions for the abusive user, and does not prevent them from directing abuse towards others. The report abuse function would forward the abusive tweet to a department that would determine whether the tweet constitutes a violation of Twitter's terms and conditions and possibly result in a suspension of the offender's twitter account.

A petition on Change.org was set up last week calling for a "Twitter boycott" on Sunday. The petition has since changed to request a "report abuse" button to be added to Twitter. The petition has gained over 125,000 signatures.

In response to the petition Twitter has vowed to streamline the process of reporting abusive tweets. Twitter UK has pledged to add staff members to the department dealing with reporting abuse, as well as embedding a report abuse button in tweets. The feature already exists on twitter mobile.

British MP's have begun calling for law enforcement to take action. Stella Creasy, Labour MP for Walthamstow, said: “This is not a technology crime – this is a hate crime. If they were doing it on the street, the police would act.”

The Telegraph reported that last week, a 21-year old man from Manchester was arrested in connection to the Twitter abuse directed at Criado-Perez.

Criado-Perez has been very vocal, arguing that this abuse is in no way limited to an online debate, saying that Twitter presents a new forum for an old problem. “It is a problem involving a certain type of man, who can’t cope with a woman being vocal and being in the public eye,” she said. “They deal with it by shutting women up with threats of sexual violence. It is nothing new – it has been going on for millennia. This is just its most recent incarnation.”

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