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#WomenBoycottTwitter: an all-day protest inspires backlash from women of color

Support for actress Rose McGowan and other abuse victims quickly evolved into a reminder that #solidarityisforwhitewomen.

Aja Romano writes about pop culture, media, and ethics. Before joining Vox in 2016, they were a staff reporter at the Daily Dot. A 2019 fellow of the National Critics Institute, they’re considered an authority on fandom, the internet, and the culture wars.

Many women’s frustration with how they’re treated on Twitter seems to have reached a breaking point over the website’s temporary suspension of actress Rose McGowan — and that frustration coalesced late on Thursday night into a platform-wide movement for women to boycott Twitter for a day.

The boycott appears to be significant; as of Friday morning, legions of women, as well as supportive men, businesses, and media outlets, had announced that they’d be opting out of using Twitter for the day.

But not everyone is so eagerly participating in the boycott; women of color, in particular, are instead using it to call attention to the endemic harassment they face on the site.

Twitter’s temporary suspension of McGowan earlier in the week, which it said was due to McGowan tweeting of a private phone number, incurred fierce backlash. Many saw the move as a prime example of a frustrating double standard that seems to exist regarding the site’s enforcement of its abuse policy. In practice, the policy often seems to punish abuse victims like McGowan, who has been vocally tweeting of late about her experience as a victim of Harvey Weinstein. It was among McGowan’s supporters that the idea for a boycott first took hold.

By Thursday evening, the idea had snowballed, with media outlets and others joining in:

But almost immediately, confusion arose over why women were boycotting Twitter at this particular moment. Users in one thread seemed to believe the boycott was a response to the Women’s March inviting Bernie Sanders to be its opening speaker, or to ESPN’s recent suspension of Jemele Hill.

Meanwhile, many people of color, including director Ava DuVernay and author Roxane Gay, were quick to explain that the boycott was happening on McGowan’s behalf — while also pointing out that women of color are habitually left to fend for themselves against harassment that is typically far worse than what most other Twitter users face, and without the same groundswell of solidarity.

Among the arguments for and against the boycott is the idea that going silent in response to being silenced isn’t the best approach.

This theme — amplify, not silence — quickly became a common approach, with the hashtags #AmplifyWomen and #WOCaffirmation making the rounds among those not participating in the boycott:

And yet some observers noted that, among those who opted not to participate, there was still little discussion of the subject that had inspired the boycott to begin with: Rose McGowan and other women like her speaking out against their abusers, and being punished for it.

As a case study in the effectiveness of going silent on a platform that relies on its users’ voices, the boycott may not have achieved much. However, the rapidity with which it was mobilized indicates the possibility of more organized, effective protests in the future. And the anger that many women feel toward Twitter for consistently failing to make them feel protected and safe is unlikely to dissipate anytime soon.

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