Twitter has announced that its latest initiative to crackdown on trolls and abuse is now going into full effect. Which in some ways seems quite odd. Like, if you’re going to eliminate this type of behavior, why aren’t you just doing it, why wait to launch a specific initiative?
Regardless, last month Twitter announced a new set of rules to tackle such issues, following another wave of criticism over their handling of complaints, abuse, profile verification – pretty much every element of the process. Now, they’re going into effect – as explained by Twitter:
“Today, we will start enforcing updates to the Twitter Rules announced last month to reduce hateful and abusive content on Twitter. Through our policy development process, we’ve taken a collaborative approach to develop and implement these changes, including working in close coordination with experts on our Trust and Safety Council.”
Among the changes, Twitter will detect and penalize:
- Accounts that affiliate with organizations which use or promote violence against civilians to further their causes.
- Content that glorifies violence, or the perpetrators of a violent act.
- Accounts which abuse or threaten others through their profile information – including usernames, display names (i.e. ‘nameflaming’), and/or profile bios.
- Users posting ‘hateful imagery’, which will now be considered sensitive media under the platform’s media policy.
And those changes have had immediate impact – the high-profile leaders of a far-right group in the UK have been suspended from the platform, headlining Twitter’s new approach. Of course, such actions have also lit a fire under freedom of speech advocates, who see Twitter’s moves as restrictive, but this is always going to be a tough balance for any platform, and particularly Twitter, which, again, notes that there will be exemptions for specific “military or government entities”.
Those exemptions seem to be where Twitter’s policies tend to fall down. For example, many have called for U.S. President Donald Trump’s tweets to be removed, or for Trump himself to be banned outright, as his tweets seem to clearly violate such policies.
But as explained by Twitter:
“To help ensure people have an opportunity to see every side of an issue, there may be the rare occasion when we allow controversial content or behavior which may otherwise violate our Rules to remain on our service because we believe there is a legitimate public interest in its availability. Each situation is evaluated on a case by case basis and ultimately decided upon by a cross-functional team.”
Any concession or exemption muddies the waters, and can lead to internal confusion, as seems to have been the case with Twitter’s verification process, which has seen various controversial figures given the platform’s blue tick of approval. As noted, it’s a balancing act, and Twitter needs to tread carefully. Whether this new crackdown improves, or further confuses, the situation remains to be seen.
That said, while Twitter does seem to receive an inordinate amount of criticism for their failings in this regard, the platform has made progress.
For example, over the past 18 months, Twitter’s rolled out a range of new safety tools and options, including:
- A new automated ‘Quality Filter’ which helps detect and eliminate questionable tweets from your timeline, including threats and offensive or abusive language.
- An expanded mute option, which enables users to block out any words, phrases, hashtags, @handles and emojis that they don't want to see.
- New restrictions on offending accounts, including 12-hour bans where your tweet reach is limited.
- New processes to restrict the creation of abusive accounts and a presentation tool which collapses potentially abusive tweets to reduce their exposure.
- An update to the default egg avatar to encourage users to upload a real photo.
Not all of these are going to solve the platform’s various issues, but in combination, they do show that Twitter is taking the issue seriously, and that the platform is evolving – and not just on security. As explained in a recent post by Will Oremus, Twitter’s overall efforts, while coming in smaller shifts, update-by-update, are showing positive signs, with engagement and usage stats on the rise.
The platform may not be evolving as fast as the market might like, and it might not necessarily be driving up huge (or indeed any) profits for the platform in the immediate term. But Twitter is working, the company's doing all it can. And the results are coming in.
Sure, you could argue that they could do more, that there are more options they could provide to facilitate usage (like editing tweets), more efforts they could make. But the cumulative impact of their various changes is shifting the tide.
They’re not solving all the problems in one hit, but Twitter is working, and such efforts could help the platform maintain its relevance moving forward.