Twitter expands reporting and mute feature to curb abuse

Steven Loeb · November 15, 2016 · Short URL:

Harassment on Twitter is so prevalent now that it's one of the reasons Disney declined to buy it

With Facebook and Google both coming under fire in the last week over false news about the election and its results, the general public seems ready to hold websites accountable for the information they spread. In response, both companies have now said they will crack down on fake news. Some say that's a long time coming. 

For Twitter, being held accountable for what its users see means taking care of its problem with abuse.

This is not a new issue by any means; it's one that the company has been fighting literally for years. No matter what it does, it never seems to be enough to stop the trolls yet it can't stop trying. On Tuesday, Twitter announced it was taking even further steps to keep its users safe. 

"The amount of abuse, bullying, and harassment we’ve seen across the Internet has risen sharply over the past few years. These behaviors inhibit people from participating on Twitter, or anywhere," the company wrote.

"Abusive conduct removes the chance to see and share all perspectives around an issue, which we believe is critical to moving us all forward. In the worst cases, this type of conduct threatens human dignity, which we should all stand together to protect."

To help combat abuse, Twitter has done three things.

  • First, it expanded its mute feature. Previously, users could mute accounts they didn't want to see, but now that can extend to specific keywords, phrases, and even entire conversations.

"This is a feature we’ve heard many of you ask for, and we’re going to keep listening to make it better and more comprehensive over time," said Twitter.

  • Next, while Twitter already allowed users to report abuse directed against themselves, now other users can step in and report if they see someone else being attacked. 

"This will improve our ability to process these reports, which helps reduce the burden on the person experiencing the abuse, and helps to strengthen a culture of collective support on Twitter," the company said.

  • Third, the company has gone and retrained its entire support team on what its anti-abuse policies are, while also improving its internal tools and systems in order to deal more effectively with this conduct when it’s reported to us."

Abuse on Twitter

The issue of abuse on Twitter rose to the surface in a big way earlier this year after conservative writer Milo Yiannopoulos led a campaign against Ghostbusters star Leslie Jones. She was forced off the site by racist users, though she did eventually come back.

lengthy piece by Buzzfeed then documented 10 years of the company apparently failing in this regard. Twitter, of course, desputed this premise, since it has been making an effort to fix the problem, but the company itself has even admitted its own failure in this department. 

It was three years ago that Twitter came under scruntiny after Caroline Criado-Perez, a freelance journalist, as well as the co-founder of and the Week Woman blog, was barraged with a series of rape threats following her successful campaign to get Jane Austen's face onto the 10 pound note.

In response, Twitter promised to make the sight safer for its users, and give them more options for reporting abuse, which it did follow through on

It was two years ago that Zelda Williams, the daughter of Robin Williams, was also forced off the site following harassment and abuse after the death of her father. At the time ,Twitter said it would be reviewing some of its user protect policies, to stop something similar happening to other members in the future, yet abuse on the site has continued, and likely gotten worse.

In 2015, then-CEO Dick Costolo admitted how Twitter had failed in its efforts to keep users safe.

"We suck at dealing with abuse and trolls on the platform, and we've sucked at it for years. It's no secret, and the rest of the world talks about it every day. We lose core user after core user by not addressing simple trolling issues that they face every day," he wrote in an internal memo.

"I'm frankly ashamed of how poorly we've dealt with this issue during my tenure as CEO. It's absurd. There's no excuse for it. I take full responsibility for not being more aggressive on this front. It's nobody else's fault but mine, and it's embarrassing."

The abuse problem on Twitter is so prevalent, in fact, that it is said to be one of the reasons that Disney decided not to buy the company earlier this year.

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