U.K. Parliament Wants to Question Twitter Execs About Social Media Threats to Women

While violent threats and abuse via the micro-blogging platform are a criminal offense under British law, "the challenge is how you identify people and prevent it," says the chairman of the relevant parliamentary committee.

LONDON – The culture and media select committee of the House of Commons in Britain's parliament recently invited back News Corp and 21st Century Fox chairman Rupert Murdoch for questions after a secret recording of comments he made about a bribery scandal and British police emerged.

Now, the same committee wants to question Twitter executives amid concerns here that the social media company isn't doing enough to protect women from online abuse and threats.

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John Whittingdale, the Conservative Party member who is the chair of the committee, said that he wants to bring in representatives from the San Francisco company, so that members of parliament could ask them about rape, death and other threats sent to female users. The session with Twitter executives is expected to be part of a fall season committee inquiry into harmful Internet content, including pornography, the Guardian reported. 

"The law is perfectly adequate," the paper quoted Whittingdale as saying. "If someone posts a message on Twitter saying he's going to rape you, that is a criminal offense already. The challenge is how you identify people and prevent it."

Asked what he expected Twitter to do, Whittingdale said it was "wholly unrealistic" to expect social media companies to monitor every single post. But response times to complaints and Twitter's willingness to co-operate with authorities would be areas of questioning and potential improvement, he signaled.

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Twitter didn't immediately comment.

The Guardian also reported that Labour Party parliamentarian Stella Creasy and feminist Caroline Criado-Perez have been the targets of abuse in recent days. Criado-Perez was attacked and threatened after a campaign that led to author Jane Austen being featured on new banknotes starting in 2017. Creasy was sent threatening tweets after expressing support for her.

Meanwhile, British police on Tuesday arrested a 25-year-old man on suspicion of harassment against the two women, the London Evening Standard reported. It quoted Criado-Perez as saying that Twitter needs to "get a grip" on security issues.

E-mail: Georg.Szalai@THR.com
Twitter: @georgszalai