Back in January, Twitter's VP of Engineering Ed Ho announced (via a Tweet thread) that enough was enough and that they would be ramping up their efforts to combat trolls and abuse.
We heard you, we didn't move fast enough last year; now we're thinking about progress in days and hours not weeks and months.- Ed Ho (@mrdonut) January 31, 2017
Their first step following up on this promise was a little underwhelming (the ability to report tweets even if the author has blocked you), but they have announced a range of helpful new tools since then, including hiding potentially abusive content and implementing temporary restrictions on offending accounts.
And now, Twitter has announced their next steps in their efforts to combat trolls and abuse, with a new range of measures adding more to their growing list of options to make the platform a safer, more inclusive place.
Here's what's been announced:
1. Detection and Restriction
The first step is the reiteration of their new policy of putting poorly behaved users into 'time-out' by limiting the reach of their tweets for a certain period of time.
"We're working to identify accounts as they're engaging in abusive behavior, even if this behavior hasn't been reported to us. Then, we're taking action by limiting certain account functionality for a set amount of time, such as allowing only their followers to see their Tweets."
BuzzFeed reported seeing a rise in such restrictions early in February, with users being sent notifications like this, informing them of the disciplinary action.
How, exactly, Twitter determines that people have breached the rules is unclear, though Twitter does note that it's generally based on a pattern of behavior, not just a one-off tweet.
"For example, this change could come into effect if an account is repeatedly Tweeting without solicitation at non-followers or engaging in patterns of abusive behavior that is in violation of the Twitter Rules. Our platform supports the freedom to share any viewpoint, but if an account continues to repeatedly violate the Twitter Rules, we will consider taking further action."
Twitter's using machine learning algorithms to detect such behavior, and they're not likely to clarify the exact rules as that would help abusers avoid restriction.
And while they do also acknowledge that this system is in development - and that they will make some mistakes - Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey says their AI is seeing significant improvements on this front.
And behind the scenes here we're getting MUCH better at applying machine learning to help curb abuse.- jack (@jack) March 1, 2017
2. No More Eggs
Twitter's also expanding their filtering options, giving users more ways to manage what types of content and notifications they see on the platform.
The last panel is the most important (and may be hard to read) - with the new advanced filter options, users can elect to mute notifications from:
- People you don't follow
- People who have a default avatar (egg image)
- People who haven't confirmed their email
- People who haven't confirmed their phone
This is a good way to remove some of the junk notifications from your timeline - for example, if you're seeing updates like this:
Pretty safe to assume those are not real people.
In terms of abuse, this can also be another measure to weed out those users who simply start up new accounts after you've blocked them - if they have to go to the trouble of uploading a new profile photo and confirming their account, they might be less likely to bother, which could limit their impact.
In addition to this, Twitter's also expanding on their option to mute certain words from your notifications, another anti-abuse measure which they released last November.
Now, users will also be able to mute selected words from their home timeline as well, while you'll also be have the option to mute content for a certain period of time - a day, a week, a month, or indefinitely.
This could help you take a break from certain conversations or discussions without having to stop using Twitter entirely, or you could eliminate mentions of a certain event from your timeline to avoid it completely.
3. Increased Transparency
And the final new measure announced by Twitter is a new move towards increased transparency and communication around their reporting process and how they're actioning complaints and issues.
"You'll start to hear more from us about accounts or Tweets that you've reported to our support teams - both when you report harassment directed at you or another account. You will be notified when we've received your report and informed if we take further action. This will all be visible in your notifications tab on our app."
This is another important move from Twitter - many users have said that their complaints are simply ignored on the platform, that they never hear anything back when they do try to take action. It's a challenge for Twitter to scale this type of interaction, but it's a positive that they're looking to actively boost engagement and updates on this front.
While the path to making Twitter - or any social platform - a safer place is not simple, it's great to see Twitter taking a lead on this and moving to address one of the app's core problems, which Jack Dorsey has identified as one of the five key pillars in their ongoing evolution. Of course, Twitter's movement on this front is not entirely motivated by community concerns alone - various reports have suggested that Twitter's market value has declined because of potential investor concerns about trolls and abuse. But even if the motivation isn't entirely driven by user welfare and wellbeing, the results are still the same.
And while the real-time nature of Twitter will always make it more susceptible to questionable behavior, given the amount of measures being introduced, and actions being taken, you can't really say that Twitter's turning a blind eye to the issue anymore - they clearly are responding and doing more to improve their platform.
There's no definitive solution, but through the accumulation of tools, Twitter's working to improve the platform for all users.