Police investigate threats made to women journalists on Twitter

Twitter says it is not its policy to automatically report threatening or abusive messages to police

Screengrab from the Twitter feed of Independent columnist Grace Dent.  Guardian columnist Hadley Freeman, Dent and Europe editor of Time magazine Catherine Mayer all received the tweet  of which Dent took a screen grab of and posted for her Twitter followers to see.  Photograph: PA/PA Wire

Screengrab from the Twitter feed of Independent columnist Grace Dent. Guardian columnist Hadley Freeman, Dent and Europe editor of Time magazine Catherine Mayer all received the tweet of which Dent took a screen grab of and posted for her Twitter followers to see. Photograph: PA/PA Wire

Fri, Aug 2, 2013, 07:35

Police are investigating after a number of bomb threats against women journalists were made on Twitter.

Guardian columnist Hadley Freeman, Independent columnist Grace Dent and Europe editor of Time magazine Catherine Mayer received the tweet, of which Dent took a screen grab and posted for her Twitter followers to see.

The message was also sent to a number of other women, including Sara Lang, a social media manager at US campaign group AARP.

It was from anonymous user 98JU98U989 – an account which was later suspended – and said: “A BOMB HAS BEEN PLACED OUTSIDE YOUR HOME. IT WILL GO OFF AT EXACTLY 10.47PM ON A TIMER AND TRIGGER DESTROYING EVERYTHING”.

A spokesman for the Metropolitan Police said: “We can confirm that the MPS has received allegations relating to bomb threats sent to a number of females on Twitter.”

The spokesman said inquiries were continuing and so far there had been no arrests and no bombs actually went off.

After receiving the threat, Freeman, whose column in yesterday’s Guardian was entitled “how to use the internet without being a total loser”, said on Twitter that she was calling the police. “If it’s illegal to threaten to bomb an airport, it’s illegal to threaten to bomb me.”

The police told her it was investigating as the threat was an “arrestable offence” and advised her not to stay at home overnight, the newspaper said.

Freeman said she had received “loads” of abuse via Twitter in the past, from both men and women, and had also received rape threats.

She said Twitter should take a more serious approach to online abuse and threats and introduce more robust ways to deal with it, telling the Guardian: “Threatening to bomb and rape people is illegal. We need to apply the law in the same way online as we do in the real world. There should be a button to report abuse more easily. Twitter makes money – they can afford some moderators.”

Dent described the threat as a “new low”, while Ms Lang said police had visited her to check over her home in Washington and that she was “shaken up” by the threat.

The bomb threats follow threats of rape made on Twitter against Walthamstow MP Stella Creasy and feminist campaigner Caroline Criado Perez.

Ms Criado Perez found herself at the centre of a public furore after she launched a campaign to have a woman’s picture printed on a new banknote. This led to the announcement that Jane Austen would feature on the new £10 note from 2017 but it also drew her a litany of depraved messages from social networkers. Ms Creasy was sent similarly vicious tweets when she spoke out in support of the campaigner.

Officers have questioned and bailed a 21-year-old man in connection with the messages sent to Ms Criado Perez.

More than 100,000 people have signed a petition calling on Twitter to beef up its procedures for dealing with abuse following the recent activity.

Ms Criado Perez and Ms Creasy have complained about receiving vicious tweets on the site in the past week.

A Scotland Yard spokesman said a 25-year-old man arrested by Northumbria police on suspicion of harassment was released on bail.

Twitter has announced plans to include a button for reporting abuse within every tweet – something which is already available on its iPhone app.

Critics however argue this does not go far enough and only directs users to the existing reporting form which, they claim, is too long and impractical.

A change.org petition calling for Twitter to take a stronger stance has drawn more than 100,000 signatures.

The petition states: “Abuse on Twitter is common, sadly too common. And it frequently goes ignored. We need Twitter to recognise that its current reporting system is below required standards.”

Ms Criado Perez said the social network was ill-equipped to handle episodes of sustained abuse and needed to work more closely with police to deal with internet trolls.

Del Harvey, Twitter’s director for trust and safety, admitted it was not the company’s policy to automatically report threatening or abusive messages to police. The website did not hold information to reveal the location a message had been sent from and therefore could not identify the correct local police force, Ms Harvey said.

Twitter bosses look set to face questions from MPs when the culture, media and sport committee examines issues surrounding child protection in the autumn. – (PA)