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Twitter faces backlash over rape-threat tweets

STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Criado-Perez successfully campaigned to have women pictured on UK banknotes
  • A 21-year-old man arrested in Manchester area on suspicion harassment against the campaigner
  • Twitter's UK General Manager Tony Wang urged users to report instances of abuse on the site

(CNN) -- A barrage of rape and death threats on Twitter aimed at feminist Caroline Criado-Perez, who petitioned to have women displayed on British banknotes -- has sparked outrage in the global media and among the Twitterati.

Following a day-long onslaught, in which Criado-Perez received around 50 sexually-abusive tweets an hour, police finally arrested a 21-year-old man in Manchester on Sunday.

The feminist champion, whose campaign resulted in the Bank of England agreeing to picture Pride and Prejudice author Jane Austen on every £10 bill, tweeted throughout the abuse: "I actually can't keep up with the screen-capping & reporting -- rape threats thick and fast now. If anyone wants to report the tweets to Twitter."

Twitter UK's General Manager Tony Wang said the social-networking company takes online abuse very seriously, offering to suspend accounts, and called on people to report any "violation of Twitter rules."

World media

But the story has ignited a backlash against the site from users and the media alike with more than 50,000 people signing on online petition urging Twitter to tackle Internet trolls.

UK Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper wrote to Wang on Sunday criticising Twitter's "inadequate" response.

In her letter, Cooper wrote: "Despite the scale and seriousness of these threats, the official response from Twitter continues to be extremely weak -- simply directing Caroline away from Twitter towards the police, and, belatedly, directing users to abuse-reporting forms on Twitter."

Writing in The Guardian, columnist Tanya Gold called on "misogynists" to be shamed rather than criticized, describing the Internet trolls as "lonely, fearful and dumb," adding that the emergence of social media "has given the vicious a voice."

Read more: Internet trolls: What to do about the scourge of the Web?

Criado-Perez had her own take on the debate being played out her Twitter account. Writing in the Independent on Saturday, she said: "If we stand firm, and shout back as one, we will win."

The BBC's technology correspondent Rory Cellan-Jones argues that Twitter now faces a "tricky dilemma" of protecting free speech while under pressure to "make the network a safer and more polite place."

Cellan-Jones believes Twitter would prefer to see threatening Tweets referred to the police, rather than introduce a "report abuse" button on every post, which would require significant manpower to monitor.

Twitter has already introduced a "report tweet" function for the iPhone and is currently developing the option for the web and Android.

But The Telegraph's chief technology blogger Mic Wright said a report function would allow "any armchair activist to make a vague stand without putting in any time, effort or thought."

Wright recognizes that comment sections on user-generated websites such as YouTube are the "post-apocalyptic badlands of the web... a resting place for the misspelled dribblings of the chronically hard-of-thinking." But he argues the Twitter conundrum is a societal problem not a technology-based one.

The debacle has led to a campaign for a Twitter boycott on August 4 -- International Friendship Day -- and an e-petition for a "report abuse" button on Tweets.

Author of 'How To Be a Woman' and columnist for The Times, Caitlin Moran, proposed a "Trolliday" where Twitter users would tweet the holding message: "Waiting for troll solution."

Columnist Suzanne Moore also called for a celebrity shun of the social-networking site. On Saturday, she posted: "Spread the word. Prominent guys with many followers join in please. It's a gesture maybe but we can try a big Twitter flounce and see?"

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