Toxic Twitter- Methodology


This report contains descriptions of violence against women. 

Between December 2016 and March 2018, Amnesty International conducted qualitative and quantitative research about women’s experiences on social media platforms including the scale, nature and impact of violence and abuse directed towards women on Twitter.

Over the course of this investigation, Amnesty International interviewed 86 women and non-binary individuals in the United Kingdom (UK) and the United States of America (USA) about their experiences on Twitter including in 5 focus group discussions with 37 young women coordinated by the University of Sussex. Given the public nature of the social media platform and the fact that many of the women interviewed are leading debates and opinions in various areas and industries, Amnesty International mainly interviewed female public figures including politicians, journalists, activists, bloggers, writers, comedians and games developers.

In addition to aforementioned interviews, Amnesty International conducted a qualitative survey in early 2017 which received 162 responses about women’s experiences of violence and abuse on social media platforms in order to capture the experiences of female users without a large public following. 101 out of the respondents (62.35%) said they had experienced abuse on Twitter. Some of these testimonies were included in the research to help illustrate how women without a large following on Twitter are impacted by violence and abuse on the platform.

Also, in September 2017 Amnesty International commissioned a data scientist to use machine learning tools to detect and analyse online abuse against female Members of Parliament (MPs) active on Twitter in the UK. The analysis found that between 1 January and 8 June 2017 25,688 tweets out of 900,223 were abusive.

In addition to qualitative research methods, in November 2017, the organization published an extensive online poll in 8 countries, including the UK and USA, about women’s experiences of abuse or harassment on social media platforms, including Twitter, and its impact on their freedom of expression online as well as the psychological impact of online abuse and harassment. This research was carried out by Ipsos MORI using an online quota survey of 500 women aged 18–55 in each country, via the Ipsos Online Panel system. The survey sample in each country was designed to be nationally representative of women in that country.

The UK and USA were chosen as focus countries given the heightened attention this issue has received in media and political spheres. Both countries also have a significant number of female Twitter users. Despite Amnesty International’s focus on these two countries, it is important to highlight that violence and abuse against women online, on Twitter and more generally on social media, is a global issue that affects women in different countries around the world.

The research highlights the particular experiences of violence and abuse on Twitter against women of colour, women from ethnic or religious minorities, lesbian, bisexual or transgender women, non-binary individuals, and women with disabilities, to demonstrate the intersectional nature of abuse on the platform. Amnesty International also spoke with dozens of experts in the United Kingdom and United States working in the field of women’s rights, identity-based discrimination, technology, and digital rights about violence and abuse against women on social media platforms. Amnesty International consulted with multiple organizations and individuals, particularly in the UK, when developing our recommendations and solutions for Twitter.

As of 16 March 2018, Amnesty International has met with Twitter in-person on three separate occasions (May 2017 in Washington, D.C, USA; February 2018 in San Francisco, California, USA; and March 2018 in London, United Kingdom). In addition to these meetings with Twitter Legal and Public Policy Experts, Amnesty International had further correspondence with the company via email and telephone and sent a letter to Twitter on 28 January 2018 outlining our concerns about violence and abuse against women on the platform and requested clarity and data related to various aspects of Twitter’s operations in relation to the company’s human rights responsibilities. Twitter responded to Amnesty International’s general concerns (hyperlink letter 14 February 2018) but refused to provide the data requested about the reporting process and content moderation. These requests were further reiterated but also denied during the aforementioned meetings with Twitter in February and March 2018.

On 12 March 2018, Amnesty International once again wrote to Twitter outlining our allegations of the company’s failure to meet its human rights responsibilities. Twitter responded on 15 March 2018