After spending a full year trying to get Twitter to take down hateful tweets about disabilities, the mother of a child with Down syndrome is speaking out. In an open letter at The Mighty, Rachel Mewes criticized Twitter for refusing to remove abusive tweets directed toward people with disabilities, like her daughter, Betsy, who has Down syndrome.
“Twitter is not doing enough to curtail the use of abusive language around Down syndrome on their platform,” Mewes wrote. “Condoning use of jokes about the condition, comments about the worthiness or right to life of people with the condition and even allowing accounts that mock the condition is unacceptable. It is discriminatory, prejudiced, irresponsible and dangerous.”
According to Mewes, this kind of treatment is widespread on Twitter. “Every day I search for ‘Down syndrome’ on Twitter and I scroll through the previous 24-hour swamp of derogatory comments, discrimination and prejudice,” she said. “I screenshot and save examples. I report every comment I see. And the next day, it is no better.”
Mewes accused Twitter of not only giving people seeking to “dehumanize, ridicule and abuse people with Down syndrome” a platform, but of normalizing, encouraging, and promoting it. “Historically, people with Down syndrome were treated as less than human. Placed in institutions. Ridiculed. Referred to as ‘Down syndrome people’ or words that are so dehumanizing and offensive I refuse to repeat them,” she wrote. “[I]n lots of ways, deep-seated prejudice is still evident in our communities. And Twitter gives them license to promote their prejudice.”
As Mewes noted in her open letter, hate crimes against people with disabilities are on the rise.
In an interview with the Daily Star, she explained that Twitter rarely takes any action when she reports the “melting pot of hatred” comments. “Every day I’m faced with this hatred towards people like my daughter and what concerns me is they’re not doing anything about it. The next day [the posts will] still be there,” she said. “Only a minority of comments I report actually get removed. Occasionally I’ll get an email to say they’ve removed a tweet but I don’t feel they’re doing anything to stop it. It’s an absolute free for all.”
Twitter says it does not tolerate the abuse or harassment of several protected categories, including disability, yet Mewes’ experience has been the opposite. “I’d really like Twitter to come and speak to us about what they have done to protect the Down’s Syndrome community,” she said. “Are they even aware that some of the language being used is derogatory? It’s 2020 – this abuse towards people’s learning difficulties shouldn’t be a thing anymore and some of the biggest companies in the world aren’t helping.”
While Twitter may be looking the other way when it comes to abusive comments towards people with disabilities, the platform seem to have little problem with censoring pro-life content. For years, Twitter has refused to allow Live Action or its president Lila Rose to advertise, even specifying that it would require Live Action to completely remove pro-life content and undercover investigations from Live Action’s own website in order to advertise. Twitter claims pro-life content is “[t]hreatening, violent, gruesome, abusive, shocking, disturbing, offensive, obscene, vulgar, inflammatory, or provocative,” yet abortion organizations like Planned Parenthood are allowed to freely advertise on the platform.
Pro-life content isn’t abusive or obscene, but discrimination against those with disabilities certainly is. It’s time for Twitter to do away with the double standards and uphold the dignity of every human life.
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