Ariel under the mistletoe, my house NYE 2008; photo by our friend Scott Beale / Laughing Squid.
If you haven’t seen it yet, I highly urge you to read Ariel Waldman’s incredibly brave (and chilling) post, Twitter refuses to uphold Terms of Service. It’s being posted everywhere from Vivane’s Sex Carnival to making feature fodder at cNet. Basically, Ariel was stalked and harassed in what had to be the most hateful, open and shocking way you can imagine via Twitter, and the service gave her the runaround when she asked for help. The same thing happened to me — with the same person, who went after me expressly because I am one of Ariel’s friends. Twitter was not helpful for me either, but what’s worse is what Ariel suffered in addition to the emotional toll: Twitters can get indexed by Google, creating a monster that can effectively destroy a reputation.
Many, many people — lots of influential tech people — witnessed Ariel’s Twitter terrorizing firsthand. For me, it’s been one of the reasons I’ve never fully jumped on the Twitter bandwagon. It’s hard to like a company when your friend — and full disclosure: Ariel is my close friend — is living within a 24-7 nightmare and the company doesn’t do anything about it, let alone acknowledge it. It’s even more frustrating when Twitter can be such a fun way to connect with people. Their inaction becomes its own action, and forces us to make choices about the rules and values that govern our interactions with these companies. Basically, if they won’t step up to the plate and act like responsible members of a community, we are forced to do so as a community — especially when we see someone (especially someone we care about) being attacked. Sorry, Twitter.
The thing is, and you all know, I’m a veteran of some pretty extreme web stalking: threats (2 days ago some guy emailed promising to publicly attack me for the rest of his life), Wikipedia attacks (and attempting to out my bf’s personal information on the Wiki talk page), email death threats, Flickr system abuse, and Twitter harassment. The surprise to me has been that in the real world, the SFPD has taken my cyberstalking way more seriously than any of these online services. Of course they have. The police have experience with this kind of terror and abuse, when dot-com startup dweebs with piles of funding do not. And that’s the wake-up call. The SFPD has treated my emails, my printed files of stalking and harassment, and even things they don’t fully understand like Twitter — as seriously as they would real-life stalkers.
And so should all social networking companies.
Ariel knows what being relentlessly stalked and terrorized is like. Anyone who says differently has never been: stalked, on the receiving end of hostile hateful destructive unwanted attention, nor has ever spent a sleepless night wondering what thing (or community) she has is going to be destroyed or taken away next, what evil nightmarish threat is going to be waiting for her when she wakes up, or wondering what’s going to come to her front door after her personal information has been spread all over the internet and back.
I saw many of Ariel’s Twitter attacks: posted, then deleted by the user from Twitter’s system, but Ariel screencapped all of them. They were sickening, horrifying. I can’t say that Twitter didn’t take Ariel seriously (we will never know because it’s hard to read *inaction*). But Twitter was never in control of the situation (nor did they follow up) and now they’re attacking Ariel in her comments (so they only care NOW). Stalkers and trolls are never going away, and social networking sites are only going to see more abuse of the holes and flaws in their system. And like Twitter they are a cyberstalkers playground, when users ask for help and the company hides behind arguments about definitions of harassment and what their TOS “really means”. That’s fucked up — that’s like trying to decide if porn is “obscene” or not.
I’ll tell you what your TOS “really means”. It means your users have to abide by your rules — and YOU DO TOO.
Twitter is a sad example of how 2.0 sites desperately need to evolve, and grow up and admit that they are going to have to deal with all sides of humanity, especially the scary side — not ignore it. Your 2.0 world is actually *in the real world*. Twitter could be a shining example of what creates brand and user loyalty. But right now, they’re not.
Think she deserves an apology?