Over the past 10 years, Twitter in many users eyes, has failed to stop harassment. Some of us have been lucky to evade harassment on the platform, but it certainly exists in force and you don’t have to look hard to find it.
Hate on Twitter is brutal and aggressive, just send a few tweets with the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter and you can easily end up with your mentions being clogged by racism and hate. Women have received rape and death threats as hate speech is easily packaged up into a 140 character tweet.
Twitter’s response to all this abuse and hate? Up to last week, pretty much nothing. Charlie Warzel at Buzzfeed News recently went deep into the problems with a fantastic piece – “A Honeypot For Assholes”: Inside Twitter’s 10-Year Failure To Stop Harassment. I highly recommend reading Charlie’s piece, it goes deep into the problems at the core of Twitter.
From the start of the service, Twitter made free speech a priority and executives publicly declared “Twitter is the free speech wing of the free speech party.” The problem is that when they touted themselves as being free speech champions they opened the doors to abuse and hate.
There is a saying online which you may or may not be familiar with – “Don’t feed the trolls” and it basically means that when you are confronted with this abusive behaviour then don’t give them a reaction, move on and don’t respond. That only works when something actually happens when you hit the report button, don’t feed the trolls just doesn’t cut it anymore.
Twitter knows it too, in 2015 a memo was leaked which was sent to Twitter staff by Dick Costolo. “We suck at dealing with abuse.” No shit. Three years ago Twitter made a resolve to stop harassment, but the trolls are still winning.
None of the new features which have been introduced in the past year have attracted new users. Revenue growth is slowing and the company is constantly the speculation of being a takeover target. As the abuse continues to grow and mount it dissuades new users from joining and drives loyal tweeters to close accounts and leave.
This all comes despite what seemed to be a string of features that were brought in to deal with the issue of abuse. In March 2015 it was made possible to report Twitter abuse to law enforcement, lock abusive accounts for an extended period of time and also allowed users to share block lists. However the trolls have continued.
Twitter has done an incredible job at creating a platform for realtime sharing and content with openness and freedom but they have failed to tackle a rising issue and drive out abusers. If Twitter can’t figure out a way to deal with the abuse and harassment problem plaguing the service then it could have detrimental effects into the future.
However, Twitter’s policy of dealing with sound or moving images from the olympics on the platform has shone a big bright light on just what they can do and how fast they can do it.
Only rights holding broadcasters can share sound or moving images from the games so if the average joe shares that content they could be liable for copyright infringement. Twitter’s job is to locate that content fast and remove it, which is exactly what they have been doing.
People have been testing the waters to see just how quick Twitter’s response is and tweets with olympic clips have been taken down within minutes. Naturally the question has to be asked, how can Twitter – a platform where abuse and hate have become commonplace – be able to take down Olympic content in minutes but do so little to tackle harassment?
Much of the abusive content that users experience on a daily basis is taken down some time later or in many cases not taken down at all.
How can Twitter move so fast to get copyright content down in minutes but fail to act when this woman received a rape threat. Instead Twitter actually issued a response to her saying that although reading a tweet could be “frustrating”, it was an attempt by a harasser to “connect” with people around the world.
Or what about when Twitter could not “determine a clear violation” of its rules regarding this tweet.
— Moshe Zichmir (@mosezichmir) July 6, 2016
Or how about the time when a user was told to “go kill yourself, slut” and the company didn’t determine it as harassment.
Hey, @Support, glad to know that telling people to kill themselves doesn’t break the rules. pic.twitter.com/agEgyx9Ah8
— 🔶🇪🇺🕊Sarah Noble 🕊🇪🇺🔶 (@SarahNobleLD) June 14, 2016
Or how about the vile abuse that the @Ireland account received on Monday morning this week when a new curator took over. Michelle who is originally from England, has now settled in Ireland and the abuse she has received on the account has been horrific.
— Rebeccah Louise ✨ (@RebeccahLouise) August 22, 2016
We get the idea now, there are hundreds of thousands of instances like this and if Twitter can deal with olympic GIFs within minutes then there is no reason why they can’t also deal with abusive content within minutes.
This is not free speech, this is hate speech and if Twitter can’t figure out a way to deal with the growing problems they could find themselves driving more and more users away.
Twitter says that they comply with DMCA requests regarding olympics content. Surely they should also be complying with legitimate reports of abuse and harassment too?
What Is Twitter Actually Doing About All This?
Twitter needs to do something, they problems they have with harassment and trolls has been amplified following Buzzfeed’s in depth report and there has been a growing number of pieces published online highlighting the issues as well as several high profile celebrities choosing to leave the platform.
Last week, Twitter responded by revealing a quality filter. The idea behind the filter is that Twitter will try to automatically detect tweets which may be of a low quality or harassing in nature by looking at account origins and behaviours. The filter will pick up on low quality tweets from content that appears to be duplicate or automated.
— Twitter Support (@Support) August 18, 2016
So if you happen to be one of those individuals who likes to send automated spammy @ messages to people thanking them for a follow and asking them to check out your ebook, the filter should catch it and prevent users from being subjected to seeing it at all. Now we just need that functionality to extend to automated DM’s and we would be all set.
The filter will not block content from accounts which you follow or which you have interacted with. There is also a new notification feature which will allow you to receive notifications from only the people you follow which could cut down on the abuse but could also have an adverse effect on open interaction which is what Twitter has thrived on.
Will This Be Enough?
It is great to see Twitter doing something in the wake of growing complaints but there is also an important point to be made regarding these new features. They are not in fact brand new. These granular notification settings, while they sound like a very positive step forward, they have actually been present on Twitter for a year now. The filters have been limited to verified accounts only.