“Ask Rape Crisis Scotland” - a manufactured trend

by David Allsopp

Sun Aug 15, 2021 (updated: 13:34 )· 1375 words · 7 min

On Tuesday 10th August, following a string of harassment of Edinburgh Rape Crisis centre, so-called “gender critical” (GC) campaigners conducted the latest in a series of online attacks against Rape Crisis Scotland.

At around 6pm UK time, GC accounts celebrated getting the hashtag #AskRapeCrisisScotland listed as the top UK trend on Twitter:

Twitter user campervanwoman says "Trending at number 1 in the UK! #AskRapeCrisisScotland. Are you really going to dismiss us all as bigots @rapecrisisscot?"
Twitter user campervanwoman says "Trending at number 1 in the UK! #AskRapeCrisisScotland. Are you really going to dismiss us all as bigots @rapecrisisscot?"

Editor's note: We have collected some examples of more egregiously racist and transphobic tweets directed at Wadhwa, Scottish Rape Crisis, but are opting to list these as links in our references rather than display them in line with this article so that the contents may be useful without causing further harm or upset1

Context

This hashtag continues a wider pattern of Twitter pile-ons and harassment of any organisations (women’s services in particular) who are visibly trans-inclusive. Recent examples include Battersea animal shelter, the British Psychological Society, Save The Children, Mind, Barclays, the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award, Edinburgh Rape Crisis, NSPCC, The Practising Midwife, the Women's Institute, the National Trust, Chester Women's Aid, the charity Birthrights, the Vagina Museum, PureGym, Time Magazine, The Museum of English Rural Life, Macmillan, the Evening Standard, Dove, Glasgow Women’s Library, and the Fawcett Society.2

Many of the recent hostile tweets referenced either a recent statement by RCS3 in which they called out the misinformation and abuse being directed at them; or a recent interview with Mridul Wadhwa on the Guilty Feminist podcast4.

Wadhwa, a trans woman of colour, has been an ongoing target of GC online harassment since being appointed CEO of Edinburgh Rape Crisis Centre in May 2021.5 GC accusations and misrepresentations have included (amongst many others):

  • the claim that she “lied” on her job application by stating that she was a woman (she is a trans woman, has worked in this sector since 2005 and with RCS for many years and has been openly trans during that time);
  • the claim that her appointment was “unlawful” under the Equality Act (in fact the job advertisement merely specified “women”, and RCS are under no legal obligation to discriminate against trans women);
  • references to her not having a Gender Recognition Certificate (despite there being no requirement for this, and in fact she cannot legally obtain one due to her country of birth);
  • misrepresentations of her words relating to “reframing trauma” in the podcast mentioned above, in which she stated that victims would be accepted regardless of any prejudice they brought with them, but that addressing that prejudice might form part of the healing process. Update: Edinburgh Rape Crisis issued a statement by Wadhwa on 12 Aug to address these misrepresentations - which again received hundreds of hostile and often transphobic quote-tweet responses on Twitter6

Maggie Chapman MSP (previous COO of RCS) issued a statement on 13 Aug on behalf of the Scottish Green Party, supporting RCS, which again attracted an abusive pile-on 7

Many of the hostile tweets misunderstood or misrepresented RCS’s services; for example, ignoring the fact that they also serve male survivors (in far higher numbers than trans survivors), or claiming that survivors would be discriminated against due to their views or feelings. 8

The harassment may have been further stoked by transphobic and inaccurate blogposts from WomenVotingWithOurFeet on 9th August, and forwomen.scot and Graham Linehan on the 10th August. Further transphobic statements followed from guests on Linehan’s podcast that day. 9,10,11

Analysis

Although the precise Twitter trending algorithm is unknown, it seemed surprising that this hashtag made it to the top ranking for the UK, so we downloaded all available tweets associated with the hashtag, for analysis.

The number of tweets at the time of achieving the top ranking was quite modest in Twitter terms; around 4,800. On the face of it, this might still seem like a significant outpouring of grassroots concern. However, the number of actual accounts tweeting with the hashtag was only about 240. Some accounts had tweeted up to 24 times each, with almost half of the tweets coming from just 30 accounts.

The majority of the activity was retweets. Although around 600 accounts had retweeted the hashtag, about half of the retweets came from just 30 accounts, in some cases retweeting over 200 times each to boost the hashtag.

The hashtag trended for some hours, and we followed up with another download of all related tweets the next morning around 09:40. This revealed an even more dramatic level of amplification by a small number of accounts:

  • About one third of the retweets were accounted for by just 30 accounts.
  • The top account had retweeted the hashtag 562 times in total, of which 168 were within a single hour early the following morning, the 11th August; others retweeted between 100 and 400 times each.
  • Many of the top accounts’ recent activity (typically, their most recent 1000-2000 tweets, depending on availability) was almost exclusively retweets - up to 99.9 percent of their output in multiple cases.

There is no indication that any of these accounts were automated to achieve this. The top accounts typically had between several hundred and several thousand followers, followed and were followed by numerous other GC accounts, and often displayed GC symbology and slogans. The top two accounts have gone protected (private) at the time of writing.

Conclusions

In summary this trend, rather than representing an outpouring of genuine concern about women’s services, was primarily manufactured through transphobic disinformation on and off Twitter, and manipulation of the Twitter trending algorithm by a small number of obsessive accounts, some of which (judging by their recent activity) are largely dedicated to amplification rather than any genuine content-generation or engagement.


References:

2

Collating this list of recent similar attacks was made much easier by Alex @FoldUpToys thread tracking these.