Kim: Problems with women boycotting Twitter

On Oct. 13, Rose McGowan, actress and feminist activist, inspired a widespread spontaneous 24 hour long boycott of Twitter after the social media service suspended her account. McGowan is a survivor of sexual assault by Harvey Weinstein and frequently disparages the patriarchy and rape culture on her Twitter account. One of her tweets included a private phone number, violating the terms of services, and caused her account to be suspended. In response, her followers organized the campaign: #WomenBoycottTwitter.

From one perspective, the situation seems clear. Obviously, hysterical feminists are overreacting to perceived wrongs; McGowan broke a rule by doxxing—publishing private information— someone and was punished for it.

But this view ignores Twitter’s inconsistencies with suspension, its history with abusive content and its unstable terms of services. This view ignores how tweets threatening thermonuclear war remain public, how anti-semitic tweets and accounts do not get deleted and how reports of stalkers using Twitter to post private information about their victims are shoved off by the company.

The campaign had its faults, but its intentions and necessity were not among them. And Twitter has responded by promising to to increase transparency about upcoming changes to the rules, even releasing a calendar to show when these changes will occur. Whether these changes will affect anything or not is the real question, however.

Where the initiative failed was in the planning phase. As a spontaneous action, the boycott had a lot of passion, but little organization.

First of all, the boycott ignored intersectionality and alienated potential supporters, particularly women of color. Many women of color pointed out that they did not receive the same support facing similar situations; it seemed that people only began to mobilize when a white woman was targeted. This sparked off the splinter tag, #WOCAffirmation.

Secondly, the boycott was counterintuitive. Kate Leth, a writer and cartoonist, tweeted “I understand the idea behind [the campaign] but I don’t personally agree that silence is the right protest to being silenced.”

Others suggested that instead of being silent, women should be louder. Enter #AmplifyWomen.

This movement holds a lot of potential, but it also would not hurt Twitter financially or gain the attention from the company that the movement sought. Realistically, though, neither did #WomenBoycottTwitter. The boycott was only 24 hours long, and users planned to return the next day. With splinter tags sending thousands of new tweets (as they deserved to be, because #WOCAffirmation and #AmplifyWomen are both important), the effects of the boycott were lessened. The boycott also drew news attention to Twitter for something unrelated to Trump and the government, for the first time in a long while. In fact, Twitter’s shares rose to $18.63 on Oct. 13, the highest that they have been since July.

Twitter responded because Twitter is dying as a company and needs the publicity. The women involved in the movement were lucky for that. But future actions will not be as easy as being passionate about an act. The Montgomery Bus Boycott, one of the most famous and effective boycotts in the history, was organized well beyond Rosa Parks; there were leaflets, distributed by Jo Ann Robinson, carpools through the Montgomery Improvement Association and its president Martin Luther King, Jr. Organization and resolution were key to the Montgomery Bus Boycott’s success.

It was mostly luck that #WomenBoycottTwitter had the result that it did.

The causes are not the same, and the situation is not the same. But there’s still oppression happening in the United States, and combatting it must be done with passion, organization and resolution from all. A longer, more structured movement is how bigotry will be defeated.

Won Hee Kim is a second-year English major.