In a meeting with the Human Rights Committee, Scottish MPs questioned Facebook and Twitter executives about the rampant misogyny that’s permitted on their social media platforms. They wanted to know why women are banned for doing things like quoting actual laws or listing accurate statistics, while violent threats against women are considered fair game.
“There is a strong view amongst MPs generally, that what is happening with social media is a threat to democracy.”
Joanna Cherry, a lesbian Scottish MP, questioned Katy Minshall of Twitter, repeatedly asking why Twitter does not provide protections on the basis of “sex.” Minshall kept deflecting the question by talking about protections on the basis of “gender” and “gender identity.” Cherry also repeatedly asked why violent threats against women aren’t considered a violation of Twitter’s terms of service, while women are routinely banned from the platform for stating basic facts, quoting the dictionary or even law.
The chair of the Human Rights Committee, Harriet Harman, said, “There is a strong view amongst MPs generally, that what is happening with social media is a threat to democracy.”
Joanna Cherry specifically inquired about a tweet from April 28th, posted by the highest paid e-sports player in the world, Dominique McLean, a 21-year-old gay man, and a self-proclaimed “furry,” who tweets under the name “Sonic Fox.” McLean tweeted a depiction of a female character being severely beaten by a male character, captioned “what I do to terfs.” Each time the female character was hit in the neck (so hard her skin came off), McLean yelled “terf.”
The slur “terf”—associated with threats of violence, rape and murder—is used to condemn women of any political background for something as simple as expressing concern for the safety of children, and to condemn lesbians for something as simple as being innately exclusively same-sex attracted.
Thousands of people following McLean “liked” the post. Many feminists reported it. I was one of them. Twitter wrote stating, “We have reviewed your report carefully and found that there was no violation of the Twitter Rules against abusive behavior…”
Joanna Cherry wanted to know why MPs had to get involved before Twitter would take the threat of violence against women seriously.
It wasn’t until MPs and other high profile figures got involved, that Twitter removed McLean’s comment, but McLean wasn’t banned from the platform. Cherry wanted to know why MPs had to get involved before Twitter would take the threat of violence against women seriously.
While the one comment did come down, after the MPs spoke up, Sonic Fox continued firing a string of tweets, focused on targeting the lesbian MP, as well as other figures involved, and women in general. One such comment, “sorry not sorry clowning terfs…” gained 30,000 “likes.” The follow-up comments remain on the platform.
Cherry also asked about a number of violent threats, including one where a human hand is seen holding a gun, and was posted as a threat to journalist Helen Lewis. She couldn’t get a direct answer as to why those threats didn’t violate the terms of service, yet women are routinely banned for non-violent, logical comments.
This week, yet another woman, Juliet Smollett, has been banned from Twitter. The activist, who has a lesbian daughter, often stands up for the lesbian community. She responded to a tweet that read “happy #LesbianDayOfVisibility my self worth is directly tied to how fucked up my hair is. anyways down with cis.” The Mom commented, “You’re not a lesbian,” and for that, her Twitter account has been suspended.
For context, the term “cis,” is used to mean “not trans,” but since it’s often used in conjunction with violent threats, it’s also considered a slur. The term also implies that women identify with the oppressive ‘gender’ stereotypes and roles that are imposed upon us (based on sex). Lesbians are among those who reject the label as sexist and homophobic… In this video, brilliant trans icon, Miranda Yardley, discusses why.
Since the tweet by “astralesbian,” was posted on Lesbian Visibility Day, “down with cis” comes across especially anti-lesbian. “Cis” is often used to denote a perceived privilege (ie. “cis privilege”). Thus, the comment would imply lesbians are oppressors, positioning “astralesbian” as the oppressed. As in ‘Happy Lesbian Day of Visibility, Oppressors’!
All logic aside, Juliet Smollett was banned from Twitter.
“Cis” is additionally often used in conjunction with violent comments (e.g., “die cis scum”), or as trans athlete (World Champion in Women’s cycling), Rachel McKinnon, recently wrote, “cis” people should “die in a grease fire.”
Upon hearing of the latest ban, award-winning feminist lesbian blogger, Claire Heuchan, wrote, “Gutted to find out that the wonderful @Jsoosty, who is mum to a lesbian daughter and friend to many lesbian women, has been permanently banned from twitter for standing up for us. Meanwhile, countless accounts advocating violence against women remain active.”
Feminist Sarah Ditum wrote, “This is the whole deal with Twitter’s moderation on gender: the company’s never stated this, but it’s clear from the bans that not believing in gender identity is considered more egregious than death & rape threats against women. Which is a really, really extreme position.”
Lesbian tennis icon, Martina Navratilova, seemingly at a loss for words, simply wrote “Wow…“ And I get it… When Irish writer/director, Graham Linehan, alerted me to this yesterday, I was also at a loss for words.
For hours and hours, I was at a loss for words. By evening, I was in a daze. How did we come to this place? Do people really not see the big picture?! I sat on a bench, outside a garden shop, and opened my email: A lesbian in her early twenties had written me to say she was “horrified” by the so-called community. She’d written to tell me that “NYC Dyke Bar Takeover” (on Facebook), had told it’s ‘followers’ to boycott a Japanese lesbian promoter’s event, calling it “unsafe.” They branded her a “TERF.” She sent me screenshots. My head was spinning. She wrote, “We officially live in the twilight zone.” She said it’s “f*cking terrifying and horrible.” She started the email by saying I shouldn’t share it, she just needed to “vent,” and ended the email saying I could go ahead and share it if I wanted to… If I thought it might help.
My phone died and I wandered into the Farmer’s Market. It was getting dark. How did we come to this place? Do people really not see the big picture?! An image of a lesbian being dragged off by 4 police officers this weekend, at Pride in South Wales, flashed through my mind.
How did we come to this place… where women can be fired from their jobs for talking about women’s rights, where lesbians are writing to tell me they’re “terrified” to so much as “like” a comment online. How did we come to this place… where lesbians are told, by non-lesbian organizers, not to come to the Dyke March, unless they believe that “plenty of lesbians like dick.”
How did we come to this place? I don’t know, but I sure don’t want to be here. And that feeling is exactly why we need to fight. Because this exhaustion I feel was the goal all along. To bully us. To threaten us, till our silence gives the illusion of compliance. When I’m at a loss for words, that’s precisely when I need to find them. Because my community is in distress, and “Forever Grateful, an eternally disillusioned lesbian,” is feeling like she’s living in “the twillight zone.” And this can not and will not stand. So now’s not the time for any of us to lose our words. It’s the time for us to find them, and speak up.
جوليا ديانا — Julia Diana Robertson, is an award-winning author, and a contributor for Huffington Post and AfterEllen—A first generation Arab-American, who grew up between worlds, and currently resides somewhere in the middle with a bird’s eye view.