TECH
12/08/2014 03:13 pm ET Updated Dec 08, 2014

Twitter Under Fire As Users Spread Information About Alleged Rape Victim

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Twitter is under fire for failing to quickly stop the spread of personal information allegedly belonging to "Jackie," the woman who described being brutally gang raped in a November Rolling Stone article, despite recent efforts to beef up anti-harassment measures.

Last week, Rolling Stone reported that it had doubts about the accuracy of Jackie's description of being raped at a University of Virginia fraternity party in 2012. On Sunday, a conservative blogger posted what he claimed was the woman's full name, and wrote, "I'm giving Jackie until later tonight to tell the truth and then I'm going to start revealing everything about her past."

Other Twitter users spread photos allegedly showing Jackie, along with what they claimed were her phone number and address. Some also shared a link to an online report detailing what it said was Jackie's profile on another social network.

Twitter's policies say it's against the rules to "engage in targeted abuse or harassment," which includes "if the reported behavior is one-sided or includes threats."

The company also recently rolled out improvements to how users can flag harassment, including allowing users to report abusive Tweets on behalf of another person. In November, Twitter entered into a partnership with Women, Action and the Media so that the nonprofit could help track what Twitter does with complaints of gender-based harassment.

At that time, WAM Executive Director Jaclyn Friedman told The Atlantic, "The major systematic issue is Twitter -- and they’re not alone in this, other social media companies do it too -- doesn’t put nearly enough resources into moderation." She called it a "scandal" that the Silicon Valley company needed the volunteer services from a tiny nonprofit to help monitor abuse.

On Sunday, journalists took to the social network to complain that it wasn't doing enough to stop the tweets targeting Jackie:

Mat Honan, a senior staff writer at Wired, wrote, "Hard to take Twitter's new anti-harassment commitment very seriously when this kind of stuff is still allowed."

Clara Jeffery, the co-editor-in-chief of Mother Jones, tweeted, "Dear @twitter @safety: you will be measured against your failure today. Which is so far epic."

Jill Filipovic, a senior political writer at Cosmopolitan, wrote, "When tweets with an alleged rape victim's name, address, phone number & email are still up, @twitter is doing something wrong."

A Twitter spokesperson would not comment on whether the company was taking any action related to the alleged harassment or the process by which Twitter determines whether accounts are breaking the rules.

"We do not comment on individual accounts, for privacy and security reasons," the spokesperson said.

After receiving questions from The Huffington Post about releasing Jackie's personal information, the conservative blogger, who has thousands of followers and has been actively sharing information related to Jackie, tweeted, "It's funny that I have to explain to journalists what the first amendment is."

As of Monday, a tweet from a separate account that had shared Jackie's supposed contact information had been removed. The tweet had been retweeted dozens of times. The account that originally posted the information was still active.

Twitter has run into other issues around women's safety before. This summer, late comedian Robin Williams' daughter quit Twitter after being harassed on the social network. And last year, several prominent women received bomb threats on Twitter.

"This is just another example of online harassment not being taken seriously," said Elizabeth Plank, a senior editor at Mic who covers feminist issues. "I find it disgusting, yet unsurprising. Social media platforms, though entirely dependent on women because they make up most social media users, are largely unsafe for women, and very little is being done about it."

Friedman told The Huffington Post that Twitter's "inaction on this seems to be a clear statement that it's okay to out someone's real name that they have taken great pains to keep private."

"We are both alarmed and heartbroken and wish Twitter was taking more action in this case," she said.

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