Twitter has a big problem with abuse. Everyone knows this. The company's CEO knows this. The management team at Twitter knows something has to be done about it. But what is Twitter going to do about all the abuse and harassment that takes place on the site?
Incremental changes, for now.
Twitter has just provided an update on safety features concerning abuse and harassment, claiming to be fielding many, many more abuse reports since it streamlined the reporting process late last year. On top of that, Twitter says it's tripled the size of the team handling these abuse reports.
"Over the last six months, in addition to the product changes, we have overhauled how we review user reports about abuse. As an example, allowing bystanders to report abuse – which can now be done for reports of private information and impersonation as well – involved not only an update to our in-product reporting process, but significant changes to our tools, processes and staffing behind the scenes. Overall, we now review five times as many user reports as we did previously, and we have tripled the size of the support team focused on handling abuse reports," says Twitter VP of User Services Tina Bhatnagar.
But that hasn't fixed the problem – a problem which, at least at thus point, seems unfixable. Manageable, maybe. But you're never going to completely protect hundreds of millions of people from abuse on the internet. You can try to mitigate it, however.
Twitter is now streamlining the reporting of impersonation, self-harm and the sharing of private and confidential information – just like it did with harassment and abuse.
They're also doing something new when it comes to punishing those who break the rules.They're making it harder to be a repeat offender.
"We are also beginning to add several new enforcement actions for use against accounts that violate our rules. These new actions will not be visible to the vast majority of rule-abiding Twitter users – but they give us new options for acting against the accounts that don’t follow the rules and serve to discourage behavior that goes against our policies," says Bhatnagar.
Specifically, Twitter is going to start using phone numbers to track users who've been suspended for abusive behavior. Twitter may now ask for users to verify their phone number in order to reinstate their suspended account. Twitter can then check these numbers against a database of banned users. Of course, this doesn't tackle the problem of people simply creating a new account altogether (you just need an email address for that). But it helps.
Twitter is looking to make it hard for troll, if it can't outright silence them. Listen to what CEO Dick Costolo had to say in a recent New York Times interview:
"We’ve always taken [abuse] seriously. We’ve drawn a line on what constitutes harassment and abuse. I believe that we haven’t yet drawn that line to put the cost of dealing with harassment on those doing the harassing. It shouldn’t be the person who’s being harassed who has to do a lot of work.
"One way of thinking about it is: I may have a right to say something, but I don’t have a right to stand in your living room and scream it into your ear five times in a row. Right? I think there are things you can do on the platform that are of varying degrees of severity — not just black and white."
Previously, Costolo had vowed to "kick off trolls left and right."
Making abuse reports a bigger priority and assigning more people to deal with them is definitely helpful, as you'd think it would lessen the turnaround time from moment of reporting to Twitter taking action. But Twitter can suspend all the accounts it wants and make it hard for people to find a way back on Twitter – people will find a way to harass if they really want to.
Image via Rosaura Ochoa, Flickr Creative Commons