British police have launched an investigation after several female British journalists received bomb threats on Wednesday evening. TIME’s Europe editor Catherine Mayer, Hadley Freeman, a columnist for the Guardian newspaper, and Grace Dent, a columnist for the Independent newspaper, all received identical tweets from an anonymous user or users whose Twitter handle contained a mix of letters and numbers. It appears the account has either been suspended or deleted. The threats follow threats of violence directed at other British women via their Twitter accounts.
Dent posted a screen grab of the tweet, which read:
“A BOMB HAS BEEN PLACED OUTSIDE YOUR HOME. IT WILL GO OFF AT EXACTLY 10.47PM ON A TIMER AND TRIGGER DESTROYING EVERYTHING.”
Several other women were also targeted with the same threat: Sara Lang, a social media manager at the American Association of Retired Persons in Washington (Lang appears to be the only non-British-based woman targeted); Katie Hartwill, an assistant to British Member of Parliament Chloe Smith and Anna Leskiewicz, editor of Oxford University’s student newspaper, Cherwell.
Mayer says that she did not take the message seriously because “it was phrased in a way that I found more amusing than sinister. I take it seriously as abuse but I didn’t actually believe at any point there was a bomb outside my house.” She adds that she did not retweet it, because that “was in some way to validate that person,” but took a screen shot and notified police as well as Twitter.
Wednesday’s bomb threats come in the wake of nearly a week of threats of rape and murder targeted at Caroline Criado-Perez, a freelance journalist and feminist campaigner who successfully lobbied the Bank of England to feature a female face (other than the Queen’s) on British bank notes. Parliamentarian Stella Creasy, who took part in the currency campaign, was also targeted.
A recently started Change.org petition to get Twitter to add an abuse button has now received over 110,000 signatures. Twitter announced earlier in the week that it had introduced a button for reporting abuse on its iPhone app, and said it would look to do the same for its Android app and on its website.
Freeman, whose latest column for the Guardian, “How to use the Internet without being a total loser,” addressed the issue of online abuse, told a reporter at her own newspaper that the sort of abuse and threats she already received on Twitter had escalated since the barrage of threats made against Criado-Perez and Creasy.
“Because of the bomb threat this time I called the police. There was that guy arrested for threatening to blow up an airport. If it’s illegal to threaten to bomb an airport, it’s illegal to threaten to bomb me,” said told the Guardian.
Twitter has come under criticism for its lack of communication in handling the threats to Criado-Perez and Creasy. Creasy, who said on BBC’s Newsnight that Del Harvey, Twitter’s head of safety, had admitted personally to her that she felt “they had not got it right” in dealing with online abuse.
Mayer says that she is yet to receive a response from Twitter regarding the bomb threats. “It’s funny because what I think is wrong on Twitter is that they’re supposed to be this wonderful interactive service and yet they don’t interact with us.”
Recent data shows that there has been a jump in the number of cases processed by Britain’s Crown Prosecution Services involving abusive messages sent online and through texts, with over 1,700 processed last year, according to the BBC. Twitter has responded to criticism saying, “manually reviewing every Tweet is not possible due to Twitter’s global reach and level of activity.” Mayer notes that the social media giant is “still trying to operate like it is a tiny little start-up, and it needs the infrastructure” to respond to claims of abuse in each country.
Criado-Perez and other Twitter users have begun using the hashtag #SHOUTINGBACK in response to threats as well as to other Twitter users who say the best policy is to ignore the abusers. Mayer says that the hashtag, and projects such as the Everyday Sexism Project, which catalogues on its website the abuse experienced by women on a day-to-day basis, serve as useful reminders that abuse should not be ignored. “That’s why I reported it [the bomb threat]—because you have to log these things in order to make people understand that in the overall scheme of things, even small things matter.”