Tyler The Creator performs with Earl Sweatshirt onstage during day one of the 2013 Coachella Festival at the in California. (Photo by Karl Walter/Getty Images for Coachella) Photo: Karl Walter
I’m a 23-year-old psychology student from Sydney and in June this year, I was subjected to a horrific torrent of abusive tweets from fans of touring American rapper Tyler Okonma. I challenged Okonma’s lyrics which encourage rape and violence against women by vocally supporting a petition on change.org that suggested he shouldn’t be playing all-age shows.
At Tyler’s concert in Sydney the next day, he told his fans he hoped my children got STDs, and “dedicated” songs to me that included lyrics like “punch a bitch in her mouth just for talkin' shit”.
The abuse started almost instantly. First a drip, then a rush, then a flood. I felt physically sick. He had 1.7 million fans, and it felt like every single one of them had some violence stored up for me - a promise to assault me, the threat that they would rape me, an expression of hatred for my life and my freedom.
It was terrifying at first, and then I started to feel totally disconnected from myself. When one of them said he was going to mutilate my body, I couldn’t comprehend that he could be talking about me. The messages were coming at such a rate I couldn’t keep up.
Tyler Okonma, aka Tyler The Creator, is a member of powerful hip-hop collective Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All (usually abbreviated to OFWGKTA or Odd Future). It’s unclear how many members are part of the collective (somewhere between 25 and 60), but its best-known members are Okonma, Earl Sweatshirt, Syd tha Kyd, Hodgy Beats and last year’s Grammy-winning breakout artist, R&B singer Frank Ocean.
As a solo artist, Okonma has released three albums, his horrorcore-style lyrics taking in subjects such as violence, rape fantasies, murder and even necrophilia.
His lyrics include:
“F--- Mary in her ass.. ha-ha.. yo, I tell her it’s my house, give her a tour, In my basement, and keep that bitch locked up in my storage, Rape her and record it, then edit it with more shit”
“You call this shit rape but I think that rape’s fun, I just got one request, stop breathin”
“I wanna tie her body up and throw her in my basement, Keep her there, so nobody can wonder where her face went, (Tyler, what you doin’?) Shut the f--- up, You gon’ f---in’ love me bitch, Shit, I don’t give a f---, your family lookin’ for you, wish ‘em good luck, Bitch, you tried to play me like a dummy, Now you stuck up in my motherf---in’ basement all bloody, And I’m f---in’ your dead body, your coochie all cummy, Lookin’ in your dead eyes, what the f--- you want from me?”
I received threats from Okonma’s fans constantly for two weeks and I still get the odd tweet of abuse today. In a tone eerily similar to Okonma’s lyrics they sent messages like: “shut the f--- up cuz if I see you on the streets I’m gonna snatch u in a alley and force this d--- in you,” “how’s that for promoting rape? I’m f---ing DOING it! So watch ur back, but ur families will be first” and “you know you secretly want @f---tyler to forcibly penetrate your anal cavity”.
On the flipside I received an abundance of support from friends and family. People who read about my experience in The Sydney Morning Herald and other media outlets couldn’t believe that this kind of behaviour was being tolerated in Australia.
When I was attacked I did all the things you’re meant to do: I reported individual tweets to Twitter (after diligently filling out their long-winded forms) and was staggered to be told that tweets like this did not breach their guidelines: “f---ing waste of flesh worthless female. its girls like u who make guys want to #rape a helpless pussy like u”.
I blocked the people abusing me and then I reported it to the police, who said there was nothing they could do, other than work with Twitter. Their advice was to delete my account, and not provoke people - letting the abusers win.
After thousands of threats of rape, murder and experiences like mine, Twitter has recently announced that they’ll be rolling out a report abuse button on all platforms. That’s a great first step, but it's kidding itself if it thinks this will solve the problems faced by myself and millions of other women right around the world. It's also underestimating the consequences of creating a powerful global platform that is unsafe for women to share their opinions on.
Twitter’s rules and processes are badly broken. Other tweets, to other users, that Twitter has said are within their guidelines include: “I will rape you when I get the chance” and “Ur a f---ing faggot, go kill urself." If you’re a woman who has used Twitter to talk about things that matter to you, chances are you’ve had a similar experience. Chances are, even if you report each and every abusive, threatening tweet, many of them will be OK’d by Twitter and the abuse will continue.
Twitter has significant power, and is playing an important role in world affairs - but it’s facing a critical moment. The people who run Twitter, like Del Harvey, Twitter’s head of trust and safety, need to realise that the platform must enable people to talk about the things that matter to them without facing a torrent of threats and abuse.
I’ve joined a global petition to get Twitter to stop rape abuse on its platform. The campaign was inspired by Caroline Criado-Perez, a British feminist who used a petition on change.org to fight to keep a woman on banknotes in Britain. Immediately after she won that campaign, she faced the horrendous backlash of violence and threats that come to so many women who raise their heads online. The momentum from her campaign for reform is now beginning to put pressure on Twitter, and I hope an international outcry will get them to act with a comprehensive zero-tolerance policy for abuse.
Public discourse shouldn’t be something anyone should have to "learn to deal with”. Twitter can, and must, play an active role in being a positive voice among the multitude of violent tweets some of its users dish out. Twitter’s actions here can have life-saving consequences - but it needs to act, swiftly and effectively.
Join Talitha Stone’s campaign to get Twitter to adopt a zero-tolerance policy for threats and abuse by signing this petition at Change.Org.