Dear Twitter, Please Protect Your Users From Abuse
I’ve been on social media now for about 15 years. I first went on MySpace, then Facebook and joined Twitter when it was launched.
I use social media to raise awareness of autism and my campaigning work, which I have been doing since my diagnoses in 2001. About four years ago, I started to get “trolled” and stalked by a person from another country; it was constant, day in day out. Then later, the abuse came onto Twitter in the form of trolling, abuse and hate speech.
The worst aspect for me is Twitter cloning and impersonation. For me, it’s like identity theft. When someone clones your profile and pretends to be you, there’s nothing worse than this, but for me when I got this type of abuse, which I reported to Twitter, it took them several weeks to close down the imposter’s account.
The abuse got so bad that I had to involve the police because I was being violated on Twitter. This is a serious disability hate crime offense.
Social media sites such has Facebook and Google have verified and protected my accounts online, but sadly Twitter refuses to protect my safety online. I feel they have a moral responsibility to protect their users. But this has not happened for me. Many of my supporters have tweeted Twitter; I’ve even had my member of parliament (MP), police, crime commissioner and even celebrities write to Twitter, asking them to verify my account — but Twitter came back to say I don’t meet the eligibility criteria, when the truth is I am a high profile campaigner in the U.K., as well as an author. They still refuse to verify me, and what I really can’t get my head around is that other campaigners like me, like Shy Keenan and Denise Fergus, who have received abuse online have subsequently had their Twitter accounts verified and protected by Twitter.
Lots of people tell me, “Well Kevin, if Twitter verified your account, you will still get cloned and impersonation and abuse.” Well, yes this is true; however, if my account is verified then at least people will know who is the real “Kevin Healey.”
Over the last two years, I’ve been interviewed twice by Sky News, the Mail, Independent, BBC and ITV about my abuse online. Just a few months ago, I quit Twitter for a month because the abuse started again, but I’ve come back on Twitter now.
My advice is to not feed the trolls; instead, starve them of oxygen. It’s like the scenario of a fire that needs oxygen to stay alight. I feel Internet trolls are like this, as they need oxygen, but you can starve them and silence them.
Over 1,700 people have signed my online petition asking Twitter to verify my account, but sadly this still has not happened. I just want protection, nothing more and nothing less. In a leaked memo last year, the CEO of Twitter, Dick Costolo, said that they failed to protect users online and this would change. It slightly has, in that if you have a verified account you can filter out the abuse as well as filter out imposters, etc. — but sadly, I can’t do this because I’m still unverified.
At least some good has come out of this. I made a documentary on cyberbullying, which was screened in Stoke on Trent and London, and if it saves ones person’s life, at least I know that I’ve done something right. Too many young people are taking their own lives because of online cyberbullying, and I really fear for those who are on the spectrum and start using social media for the first time, because if they are bullied, the consequences could be devastating.
In the hope of change, below is my message to Twitter:
There have been many requests from myself and my supporters asking you to protect and verify my account, but sadly this still has not happened after five years of abuse and three years of impersonation on your platform. Many people have contacted you to request for me to be verified, and sadly you still refuse. Why?
Are you unable to make exceptions to your policies for me?
Twitter only seems to verify the following people — please, do correct me if I’m wrong: MPs, celebrities, athletes, singers, authors, etc.
But this is wrong, because you have verified campaigners like me. I even carried out an online poll the other day on Twitter, and my followers felt in the poll that you were discriminating me.
Now Twitter, for the record, I’ve had death threats on your platform, impersonation, cloning, vile hate speech against my disability — but the most horrific is when I got impersonation and cloning of my account. Do you know, Twitter, from this day on I suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)?
No, Twitter, I know you can’t stop the trolls, and you probably never will. I’m just asking for you to show some compassion. Why do you verify people? You verify people because people get impersonated and cloned!
But you’re doing nothing to help me.
Twitter, I don’t want to petition you, neither do I want to campaign against you. I have better things to do with my time, i.e. campaigning for many people living with and affected by autism in the U.K.
But I have to shout out, Twitter, because it’s injustice. Is it because I have autism and you don’t wish to protect me?
I use Twitter as a communication tool because of my autism. I help hundreds of people weekly on Twitter with advice, information and support because I’m a national campaigner and ambassador for the U.K.
Up until this day, I still remain unprotected, and I feel very vulnerable on your platform. In fact, I feel very unsafe every time I use Twitter. I’m scared in case I see another imposter pretending to be me. Do you know what that feels like? It’s horrific.
Other platforms like Facebook have verified me, why can’t you?
Please, Twitter. Do the right thing and verify my account.
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