Leslie Jones, the standup comedian turned star of the 2016 Ghostbusters remake, is having a difficult time in what should otherwise be an exciting week for the breakout star.
Leslie has become the latest high-profile victim of racist and sexist abuse on Twitter. Twitter is widely known for the number of trolls that tweet racial slurs. It has become even better known for the platform’s inability to curb hate speech and threats of violence.
Jones retweeted a few posts from trolls referring to her as a monkey shortly after the opening of Ghostbusters. Several likened her to Harambe, the gorilla killed in the Cincinnati zoo earlier this year. She also received unsolicited sexual images, including edited images of her own likeness. The Ghostbusters star also retweeted dozens of posts of those defending her, and those asking where Twitter’s support was during the storm of hateful messages.
Several fans reached out, and told Leslie Jones to avoid feeding the trolls. Leslie rejected this advice in an attempt to call attention to what has long been considered a significant problem on the platform.
Twitter I understand you got free speech I get it. But there has to be some guidelines when you let spread like that. You can see on the
— Leslie Jones (@Lesdoggg) July 19, 2016
However, some of the worst tweets mysteriously disappeared overnight. Although, it is not clear whether they were deleted by users or by Twitter support. Plenty of tweets remain both on unique user pages and on Jones’s own account.
Twitter has a significant user base. But, instances like these have resulted in a significant loss of customers to other platforms.
The Ghostbusters star is only the latest in a long list of high-profile users to be systematically targeted by online trolls.
Back in 2014, Zelda Williams, the daughter of the late Robin Williams, deleted her account after she was inundated with photoshopped images of her recently deceased father, which were often accompanied by cruel comments.
In the days after Williams publicly announced her decision to leave social media, Twitter made a vague promise to work on its troll problem.
Even Twitter ex-CEO Dick Costolo is aware of the scale of the problem. Back in 2015, the press reported several leaked internal memos highlighting the company’s awareness of its own failure. One memo said,
“We suck at dealing with abuse and trolls on the platform and we’ve sucked at it for years. It’s no secret and the rest of the world talks about it every day. We lose core user after core user by not addressing simple trolling issues… I’m frankly ashamed of how poorly we’ve dealt with this issue during my tenure as CEO.”
A follow-up memo noted Costolo taking personal responsibility for the failure to deal with trolls.
Twitter set out to change its image and support users by the end of 2015. A partnership with WAM!, an advocacy group, was created to better investigate the threats of stalking, sexual abuse, and physical violence made against women every day on its watch.
Yet, 18 months later, the same issues continue to plague Twitter. What is more, support seems to be responding with the same speed.
Additionally, Twitter’s support page says that it considers the newsworthiness of the content when deciding when to remove media, and it cannot honor every request. This suggests that Twitter is careful about what it chooses to remove, even when the content is harmful for users.
Ultimately, the Leslie Jones case is more evidence that social media firms could do more to protect users, and that simply recognizing this fact is not enough.
[Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images]