Twitter’s inability to curb harassment and trolling has long plagued the social platform — by far its biggest criticism. The company is now trying something it hopes will rein in abusive users.
Twitter says it’s adding new ways for users to flag or avoid seeing offensive posts in the broadest attempt yet to tackle the problem.
Users can already “mute” — as in, hide from view — accounts they find offensive. But now, Twitter is expanding the “mute” function to apply to particular words, phrases or conversations, giving users greater control over posts they don’t want to encounter even if those posts specifically name them.
Twitter is also going to give users broader power to report “hateful conduct,” regardless of whether they’re a target or a bystander. And the company’s support teams will get special training on “cultural and historical contextualization of hateful conduct.” The company has faced criticism for its lagging response to reports of abuse.
“The amount of abuse, bullying, and harassment we’ve seen across the Internet has risen sharply over the past few years. These behaviors inhibit people from participating on Twitter, or anywhere,” the company said in a blog post.
“We don’t expect these announcements to suddenly remove abusive conduct from Twitter. No single action by us would do that,” the company says, acknowledging that it has “had some challenges” keeping up with abusive conduct. “Instead we commit to rapidly improving Twitter based on everything we observe and learn.”
Twitter’s moves come as leading online companies respond to this year’s presidential election, marked by a flood of sexist, racist, anti-Semitic and threatening commentary. A good deal of abusive tweeting is done anonymously. Critics say President-elect Donald Trump’s forceful presence on Twitter helped embolden this behavior among his supporters.
Facebook and Google this week are restricting advertising for sites that propagate fake news, which included many stories that went viral during the acrimonious presidential campaign.
For Twitter, reining in abusive content has posed a challenge as the company has touted itself as the ultimate place for free speech and open debate. It’s unclear how or whether the new filtering features are going to change the broad and open dynamics of the platform.
But the spread of hateful conduct has also become a major sticking point in Twitter’s path to expansion, as the company struggles to attract new users and retain old ones. The damage to Twitter’s reputation caused by abuse and trolling was reportedly one of the factors that swayed Salesforce against buying Twitter earlier this year.