Twitter's New Anti-Harassment Tools Give Users More Control Against Abusive Tweeps


Twitter has always been a bastion of free speech on the Internet. While other social networks always offered tools for censoring hate speech and other types of abusive content, Twitter users have always been free to post whatever they wanted without the microblogging platform meddling in for most of its existence.

Now, Twitter is rolling out new changes that are meant to minimize the occurrence of cyberbullying and harassment on its own platform. It's been a long time coming, but Twitter is finally taking the steps to simplify the cumbersome anti-harassment tool that it only introduced in July 2013. This comes after numerous reports of vile language and threats of rape and violence thrown at certain Twitter users.

Previously, users who wanted to report online harassment on Twitter could only do so by filling out a lengthy multi-page questionnaire about themselves. Prior to 2013, there was no way Twitter users could report to Twitter about other users sending them or other people hate speech. With the new reporting tool, users can quickly notify Twitter about accounts harassing them with a few taps on their iOS and Android devices. Users are asked to specify what type of harassment is involved, such as disrespectful or offensive remarks, threats of physical violence and even self-harm or suicide, and identify who is being harassed, whether it is them or another Twitter user.

On the back end, Twitter is also implementing improved tools for responding to reports of harassment. As before, a person on Twitter's safety team will review the reports submitted by users and will then decide whether or not to shut down the offending account if found to have violated Twitter's anti-abuse policy. Twitter is also considering elevating a report to the front of the queue in special cases, such as when the report is made by a user claiming to have received physical threats or when 100 users have flagged a certain account for abusive tweets.

Twitter has also made changes to its blocking system. In the past, users could block other users they did not want to interact with, but that did not stop them from viewing their profiles and reading their tweets. Anybody who was blocked from someone else's account could no longer retweet or reply to his tweets, but he could still take screenshots of that person's tweets and quote him outside of Twitter.

The new blocking system now prevents blocked users from viewing the profiles of persons who have blocked them. Users can view people they have blocked on a dedicated page, where they can unblock them or add other people to block. Still, this feature will not entirely block users from viewing the content on profiles where they are blocked. They can easily log out of Twitter or open another browser to view the user's public tweets while they are logged out.

Twitter admits these new methods are not likely to prevent extensive online abuse waged against users, such as the ones launched on feminist media critic Anita Sarkeesian and game developer Brianna Wu who fled their homes after anonymous users believed to be part of the Gamergate movement published their physical addresses online while threatening to rape or murder them and their children.

However, the microblogging platform says this is not the last of the developments and it is continuing to work on more improvements. One thing Twitter is said to be working on is to prevent individuals from creating other Twitter accounts from the same Internet address used to open a previous account shut down for harassing other users.

"We are nowhere near being done making changes in this area," says Shreyas Doshi, director of product management, user safety at Twitter. "In the coming months, you can expect to see additional user controls, further improvements to reporting and new enforcement procedures for abusive accounts."

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