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Twitter UK boosts anti-abuse tools after threats against women

An illustration picture shows the log-on icon for the Website Twitter on an Ipad in Bordeaux, Southwestern France, January 30, 2013. REUTERS
An illustration picture shows the log-on icon for the Website Twitter on an Ipad in Bordeaux, Southwestern France, January 30, 2013. REUTERS

By Estelle Shirbon

LONDON (Reuters) - The British arm of Twitter apologized on Saturday to a group of high-profile women who have been threatened with death and rape on the micro-blogging site, and announced measures to make it easier for users to report abusive tweets.

Twitter had come under increasing pressure to react after a feminist campaigner, several women members of parliament and female journalists were targeted by users who hurled misogynistic abuse at them and in some cases made violent threats.

"I personally apologize to the women who have experienced abuse on Twitter and for what they have gone through," Tony Wang, general manager of Twitter UK, said on his own Twitter feed.

"The abuse they've received is simply not acceptable. It's not acceptable in the real world, and it's not acceptable on Twitter," he said.

Twitter UK said it was adding staff to help handle abuse reports. It also said an in-tweet "report abuse" button currently available on the Twitter app for iPhones would be added to the Twitter website and to platforms used on other mobile devices.

The problem of abuse by so-called internet "trolls" has been front-page news in Britain since activist Caroline Criado-Perez was hit by a barrage of vitriolic tweets after successfully campaigning for a woman's face to appear on bank notes.

In recognition of her role, Criado-Perez appeared alongside Bank of England Governor Mark Carney on July 24, when he announced 19th century novelist Jane Austen would become the face of the new 10-pound note.

Police arrested two men over rape threats against Criado-Perez. One of them was also suspected of making rape threats against opposition Labour legislator Stella Creasy, who backed the bank note campaign and also appeared with Carney on July 24.

In separate incidents days later, several high-profile female journalists received tweets from someone threatening to bomb their homes and "destroy everything" there.

London's Metropolitan Police Service said on Friday it was investigating allegations made by eight people who have been subjected to harassment, malicious communication or bomb threats.

While the trolls themselves have been denounced across British media, Twitter had also come under heavy criticism for its failure to respond forcefully enough.

In a statement issued after Wang's apology, Criado-Perez welcomed the new measures announced by Twitter UK but said a more profound overhaul of the social network's system for handling abuse was needed.

"The current process is lengthy, complicated and impossible to use if you're under sustained attack like I have been," she said.

"Right now, all the emphasis is on the victim, often under intense pressure, to report rather than for Twitter to track down the perpetrator and stop them."

(Editing by Robin Pomeroy)

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