The Internet is a large, open space where everyone has the ability to voice his or her opinion. What happens when that opinion is in support of abuse? A blog post last year addressed the hashtag that began trending on Twitter: #reasonstobeatyourgirlfriend (Gruber). Twitter says, "the # symbol, called a hashtag, is used to mark keywords or topics in a Tweet. It was created organically by Twitter users as a way to categorize messages" (“What Are Hashtags”). For victims of domestic violence, a hashtag like this could not only serve as a trigger, but it normalizes violence against women. The blog article asks its readers if Twitter should remove hashtags that imply violence: 60% said yes, 30% said no, with 10% saying it depends on who the violence is aimed towards (Gruber).
In response to this hashtag, an online petition was started. The petition states, "this weekend, the hashtag ‘#reasonstobeatyourgirlfriend’ became the world’s number one ‘trending topic’ on Twitter. Thousands of users submitted reasons domestic violence would be acceptable including ‘dinner’s not ready’ and ‘she distracts you from watching television’” (“Tell Twitter”). The petition argues that Twitter bans hashtags that include curse words in them, and therefore, a topic that promotes abuse and violence should not be allowed on Twitter either (“Tell Twitter”). The petition had a goal of 10,000 signatures, and as of April 17th 2012, it had 8,784 signatures (“Tell Twitter”).
Of course this topic brings up the question of first amendment rights and free speech. One article argues, however, “Twitter’s policy states that ‘if you don’t like a topic, don’t read about it.’ Easier said than done when the topic in question is on the right side of every page, staring you in the face” (Aumiller). Especially for those who are personally affected by domestic violence, having such violence encouraged on a social media platform can be especially damaging. I think something like this is damaging for other populations as well. It teaches young women that they are not worth respecting, and it teaches young men that they have the right to say what they want about women, regardless of what kind of violence or disrespect that implies.
When I read the above blog post, written by my Sexuality and Social Media student, Dani Nispel, I was incensed. I recalled the Tweets during the 2012 Grammys, in which women claimed that they would let Chris Brown beat them any day. In my opinion, a person's right to expression on Twitter should not override a person's human right to a life free of violence. Allowing Tweets to trend that normalize domestic violence should not be allowed. Twitter regulates trending topics and bans Tweets that contain obscenities or are regarded as spam. Tweets glorifying violence of any kind should be similarly prohibited.
If you feel the same as I do, I hope you'll consider signing the online petition to "Tell Twitter: Domestic Violence Is Not A Joke."
If you're interested in reading more about the intersection of domestic violence and technology, I highly recommend that you check out Dani's blog. As she details in her project proposal,
There are harmful risks such as stalking, spyware, and information sharing, and these may or may not be offset by the improvement of resources made available to allow individuals to get help. Technology has expanded the resources to help victims, but it has also allowed perpetrators to use technology to further their abuse.
Thank you, Dani, for writing about this important topic and bringing this issue to our attention. As someone who has worked with domestic violence victims in the past, you've inspired me to think about what more I can do in the future.