Zelda Williams has returned to Twitter.
On Monday, she sent out one tweet with a powerful message:
I applaud the sentiment. I wish it held true for everyone, whether Zelda Williams or Jane and Joe on the street, but it doesn't.
I can tell you stories about harassment that would curl your hair. There's something about the Internet and the powerful draw to jump the lines of normal human behavior that brings out the worst in people. After Williams' shabby treatment, Twitter vowed to change their policies to more rapidly address the harassment which takes place all the time there.
Perhaps they have changed their policies for celebrities, but as far as I can see, that's about it. Even though this post isn't about me, I'm going to use me as an example of why their policies are ridiculous.
We begin with the highly combative and downright nasty account belonging to NBC's fitness guru, Jeff Halevy. After I wrote about him on Sunday, a mysterious Twitter account appeared on Monday with my image attached to it, and tweets which are the exact opposite of what I might say.
That's impersonation, whether they chose to use my name or not in their twitter handle.
As soon I discovered it, thanks to people who saw it right away and let me know, I reported it to Twitter using their reporting tools. Within minutes an automated account emailed a request for me to upload a copy of my drivers' license to a secure link with the assurance it would be deleted after they verified my identity.
I did so immediately. It has now been well over 24 hours since I did, but there has been no response from Twitter whatsoever. The account remains and is active despite using my picture without authorization, sending tweets with my image on them which are antithetical to what I believe.
That's one technique people use to silence those with whom they disagree. Discredit them through impersonation and or outright trolling in order to neutralize them. (Memo: It's not working.)
I'm frustrated that I'm not actually a real person to Twitter, even with identity verification. I have no claim to fame, but I shouldn't have to. Their current verification process for celebrities is really a "how well do you use social media test," a public relations primer. Meanwhile, actual flesh and blood non-celebrity people are harmed by what they do not do to control identity or abuse.
Here's a fact: Women who write about politics are targets for all sorts of harassment that does not happen to men. Yes, men are harassed too, but not to the extent women are. The same is true, by the way, of women who write about or are involved in the video game scene.
In the time I've written and spoken out about political issues, I've been the target of some truly hateful campaigns, including one where everything about me, my immediate family and my extended family was published online, or what's called "doxing."
The person or people who did it didn't like the fact that I supported the campaign to stop Rush Limbaugh from spewing hate at women. Their retaliation for that was to publish my full name, all of my addresses for the last 20 years, my kids' full names and dates of birth, and my husband's family's name and information.
They used Twitter to spread the word, and Twitter's response was a shrug. Can't pin down the exact date and time of a death threat? Well hell, then it's not really a death threat. Some anonymous troll spewing your personal information all over Twitter? Tough thing, that, but there's nothing they can really do. Is there some obsessive compulsive little man with a penchant for pornographic photos who makes 500-1000 fake accounts to harass you with? Too bad, we can't figure out that it's the same damn person who's been doing it for years now. Suck it up and enjoy the ride.
Sarah Gray at Salon said this with regard to Zelda Williams' return:
While I respect the sentiment, and I’m glad that she has not been silenced, I hope Williams is not blaming herself for the nasty garbage spewed by those bullies. Nobody should have to live with that. Internet culture must change.
Yes, Internet culture must change. We've seen it here on posts about Ferguson. The onslaught of message-makers, sent forth to change the narrative from truth to right-wing racist myth. Our brave moderators do a wonderful job of clearing that as fast as they possibly can. But on a social media service moderation would be nearly impossible, even with Big Data tools to assist.
We have no option but to rely on the humans employed by the gargantuan Twitter beast to deal with the sick, anonymous culture that drives someone on the other side of a screen to harass, bully, and impersonate people. Twitter's priorities, it seems, are to make sure the celebrities and corporate brands are covered before they look out for the little people.
Maybe it will take more celebrities speaking out before something changes. But if Internet culture has any chance to change, it should begin with the presumption that all humans are created equal, and deserve the same respect whether or not they are celebrities, brands, or media stars.
In the meantime, welcome back, Zelda Williams. I'm glad you aren't bullied into silence.