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.
Calling white women allies to recognize conflict of #WomenBoycottTwitter for women of color who haven't received support on similar issues.— Ava DuVernay (@ava) October 13, 2017
Now people want to boycott twitter? Always interesting where and for whom people draw the line.— roxane gay (@rgay) October 13, 2017
I don't see boycotts when women like Ijeoma Oluo, Blair Imani, Feminista Jones of BIWOC get threatened en-masse.— Lara Witt (@Femmefeministe) October 13, 2017
Interesting thing about [intersectional] feminism: what's radical for one might be regressive for another.— wikipedia brown (@eveewing) October 13, 2017
In this case, silence. For women of color, maybe... that might work differently for us as a strategy? Or, say, not work?
White women are given more voice and power than any marginalized woman will ever be given. McGowan got a temp suspension.— Witchy Weezie (@WeeziesBooks) October 13, 2017
Boycott the constant silencing of WOC. Boycott folks who ignore POC hurting. Boycott people who are selective in their "fight" for equality.— some Disney villain (@ehmzee_) October 13, 2017
Sadly, the white women who are off Twitter today can’t see the critiques about how #solidarityisforwhitewomen. We need to listen to WOC.— Jacquelyn Gill (@JacquelynGill) October 13, 2017
Among the arguments for and against the boycott is the idea that going silent in response to being silenced isn’t the best approach.
I understand the idea behind #WomenBoycottTwitter but I don’t personally agree that silence is the right protest to being silenced.— Kate✨Queen of Ghosts (@kateleth) October 13, 2017
So let me get this straight: we're fed up with men silencing us, so we're going to just silence ourselves? #WomenBoycottTwitter— Lauren@Home (@laureninspace) October 13, 2017
Instead of #womenboycottwitter why don't we bombard twitter. Give it hell. Get all up in it's face. Make some noise. Be brave. Fuck shit up.— amanda abbington (@CHIMPSINSOCKS) October 13, 2017
tbh I don't really want women to remain silent on Twitter for a day, I want all men to say nothing and only amplify women's voices.— shing yin khor (@sawdustbear) October 13, 2017
I'm here today to support and amplify WoC, disabled, LGBTQ voice. Amplify, not silence. https://t.co/qKTSfnxI9Z— Erica Friedman (@OkazuYuri) October 13, 2017
If you decide to boycott today that's your prerogative, but I'm going to use today to #AmplifyWomen.— 10 Carlyfield Lane (@carlylane) October 13, 2017
Oh my God #WOCAffirmation is like Christmas for Brown Girls. I keep finding presents on my TL. Can we do this every day please?— Adria Johnson (@itsmeadria) October 13, 2017
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.
I think as a tool of economic activism, this thing was too slipshod to be effective—and that women of color are spot-on in their critiques.— Elizabeth Minkel (@elizabethminkel) October 13, 2017
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.