Activists, celebrities and journalists joined a boycott of Twitter today to protest the social media platform’s locking of the account of actress Rose McGowan, a fierce critic of film producer Harvey Weinstein over his alleged sexual harassment and assaults of women.
The boycott began at midnight in New York and was to last all day. Many of those taking part signified their participation with the hashtag #WomenBoycottTwitter.
The idea for the protest came from Kelly Ellis, a software engineer, who wrote: “#WomenBoycottTwitter Friday, October 13th. In solidarity w @rosemcgowan and all the victims of hate and harassment Twitter fails to support.”
The call resonated widely. Twitter users of all stripes rallied in support of McGowan’s crusade against Weinstein and those she has cast as his enablers, or as a way of highlighting the wider issue of women being abused online at what is an especially fraught time for Twitter.
Not everyone felt it was an appropriate form of protest, with some people offering particularly pointed criticism. Director Ava DuVernay, for one, noted that minority women had not received similar support when they were subjected to abuse on Twitter.
“Calling white women allies to recognize conflict of #WomenBoycottTwitter for women of color who haven’t received support on similar issues,” wrote DuVernay, director of “Selma,” who has criticized Hollywood for its lack of inclusivity.
McGowan said Oct. 11 that Twitter had locked her account over what the company said were violations of its terms of service. Twitter did not initially explain its decision, but said later that it had temporarily frozen McGowan’s account because one of her messages had included a personal phone number in violation of its rules.
By Oct. 12, the tweet in question had been removed and McGowan’s account has been unlocked. McGowan subsequently tagged Amazon’s chief executive, Jeff Bezos, in a Twitter post in which she said she had repeatedly told the head of Amazon’s movie studio that “HW raped me.”
Among the famous names joining the boycott were Alyssa Milano, McGowan’s co-star in the TV series “Charmed”; model Chrissy Teigen; actors John Cusack, Debra Messing, Anna Paquin and Mark Ruffalo; and writer Cheryl Strayed.
Plenty of those participating in the protest came from outside the celebrity ranks.
“I love this platform, but it’s time to do better. See you all in 24 hours,” wrote Brianna Wu, a congressional candidate in Massachusetts.
For those who chose not to take part, there was a recurring theme: that keeping quiet was the wrong way to protest.
“I understand the idea behind #WomenBoycottTwitter but I don’t personally agree that silence is the right protest to being silenced,” wrote one user, @kateleth.
Another user, Suzy Tobin, wrote that she would not be joining in because, as a victim of sexual assault, she wanted her voice to be heard.
“Because it happens too much & its frightening to speak up. But we have to start talking about it,” she added.
“Not joining in on #WomenBoycottTwitter because I don’t see the point in silent protest. I believe in loud annoyance,” wrote another, @AineCarson1.
McGowan, who reached a $100,000 settlement with Weinstein after an episode in a hotel room at the Sundance Film Festival in 1997, has been vocal in her support of other women who have come forward to accuse the producer of sexually abuse.
On Oct. 11, in response to actor Ben Affleck condemning the accusations against Weinstein, McGowan called Affleck a liar and said he had known about the producer’s actions. She also criticized other Hollywood figures for their silence on the matter, writing in one Twitter post, “You all knew.”
Twitter has struggled in the past to find a balance in moderating content on it platform. It has tried to adhere to principles of free speech, but its efforts have sometimes been undermined by pseudonymous trolls directing abuse at other users.
The company is under increasing scrutiny as lawmakers investigate how it was used as part of Russia’s effort to interfere in the presidential election last year. Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., and vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said that a briefing provided by the company to congressional investigators “showed an enormous lack of understanding from the Twitter team of how serious this issue is.”
Twitter’s problems with unsavory content have also put off potential buyers. Disney, for instance, considered making a bid for the company, but ultimately opted not to.