Twitter Makes Moves to Combat Trolls

Screen Shot 2017-02-08 at 6.50.17 PM.pngTuesday, February 7th, Twitter made an announcement outlining their views on the trolling behavior discussed with Professor Fichman in class last Wednesday.

“Making Twitter a safer place is our primary focus. We stand for freedom of expression and people being able to see all sides of any topic. That’s put in jeopardy when abuse and harassment stifle and silence those voices. We won’t tolerate it and we’re launching new efforts to stop it.”-Ed Ho (VP of engineering at Twitter)

This announcement addresses the sentiments Twitter executives voiced last week that they do not feel they have taken action to address the widespread abuse that occurs on their platform rapidly enough. As we highlighted in the class on online harassment, the majority of the power to combat this behavior lies in the hands of the social media platforms, rather than with the users or the government.

Twitter executives are now aiming to give Twitter users more control over the content appearing on their Twitterfeed via the introduction of changes and tools users will see being rolled out on the site to hopefully achieve the following:

1). Prevent banned users from creating new accounts

2). Hide abusive/low quality tweets by default via the creation of a new filter

3). Present safer search results to help ensure users do not see tweets from accounts they have blocked or muted

Internet trolls….. it seems Twitter is aiming to make it a little harder for you to harass innocent people for your twisted entertainment. However, despite this announcement and Twitter’s proclamation to transform their platform into a safer place, the media does not seem to believe this will effectively solve the issue of abuse on Twitter. Searching this issue on news sources returns articles with headlines such as, “Inside Twitter’s 10-Year Failure to Stop Harassment” and “Twitter is once again cracking down on harassment with 3 new measures”. This is a result of the real tradeoff Twitter is facing: how to maintain their desired position as “the free speech wing of the free speech party” while protecting users against abuse. Evidently, one of these is achieved at the expense of the other.

Historically, Twitter has been criticized for prioritizing maintaining free speech over combating the abuse of users (Most likely the main driver of their recent initiatives announced yesterday). Are the critics valid in looking down on Twitter for not doing more? I believe they are. Keep reading for examples of abuse that has occurred on Twitter.

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Take the first example, when a racist sexist hate mob bullied Leslie Jones via her Twitter account. Jones, a star in the Ghostbusters remake, was sent tweets from numerous users critiquing her weight and race. She responded to these by Tweeting “I leave Twitter tonight with tears and a very sad heart”. Twitter eventually responded by permanently banning the initial troll who began the harassment, but refused to clarify which tweets Jones received violated their policy. In order to get the high profile actress back on the platform, CEO Dorsey reassured her himself. Nice sentiment….but I believe these after the fact actions are not enough. The emotional abuse of an innocent woman should not have been allowed to occur in the first place.

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Screen Shot 2017-02-08 at 10.13.25 PM.pngExample number two: Kurt Eichenwald, a senior editor at Newsweek who is very  open publicly about his epilepsy diagnosis, suffered a seizure at the hands of a troll who unfortunately had knowledge of his condition. Eichenwald states that during October 2016, in response to an article he published highlighting Donald Trump’s alleged conflicts of interest, a video was sent to his Twitter containing strobe lights, flashing circles and an image of Pepe the Frog flying at the screen. This message trigged his subsequent epileptic seizure. Following this incident, he received many similar messages accompanied with the caption “you deserve a seizure for your posts”. Eichenwald has filed civil and criminal cases against the user but has stated,”I can’t look at my Twitter feed anymore, but apparently a lot of people find this very funny”.

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Example number three: blogger Ariel Waldman became the target of a group of trolls in 2008 for writing articles on sex and technology. These internet bullies harassed her by sending threatening Tweets that publicized her personal private information such as her email address. These tweets also included derogatory insults. Twitter initially responded by removing these posts from the website’s public feed. However, Waldman was not satisfied with their response, especially when the threatening messages continued to pour in over the next few months. Waldman’s next step was to reach out to CEO Dorsey himself who after numerous phone calls eventually went radio silent on her. Once Waldman went public with her story, Dorsey continued to stay uninvolved but two co-founders responded by casting doubt on her story rather than advocating for the victim…. horribly handled on Twitter’s part.

Conclusion

Do you think Twitter is taking enough action to combat this type of abuse, especially given it’s reputation in the media as a safe haven for trolls and internet bullies? Should they be doing more to prevent abuse from being inflicted on innocent people instead of responding after the fact? Will these new features effectively address this problem? Comment what you think!

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5 comments

  1. Interesting post and definitely relatable to the content covered in class. Your examples show the extreme of abuse and you ask good questions about the impact of the solutions Twitter will put into play. I really liked your graphics too they help tell the story. As to your questions only if Twitter follows through with it’s initiatives will any impact be seen and I would say doing something is better than nothing.

  2. Great post, and a very tough topic to decide where I fall. I find it difficult for me to put full culpability in the hands of Twitter. However, with that said, I think they can definitely do more. With hundred of millions of users, they have to find a solution to trolling that is not only strict, but scalable. Doing this without potentially hurting other non-trolling users has seemed to be exceedingly difficult. It will be interesting to see if they some day soon decide to adopt a type of authentication program like Facebook now has, basically requiring users to use a government issued ID behind their account. With plating growth, Twitter is on the hot seat and how they proceed will be on the global main stage.

  3. I actually think the new policies miss the key aspect of the problem, which is not an actual mob of hateful people but a smaller group of people using automated bots to amplify their opinion and abuse. Treating abuse on an account-by-account basis misses this fact that the accounts are being automatically generated and choreographed to intentionally amplify abuse.

  4. Seems like a bit of an empty announcement… We all know Twitter has been doing poorly lately, to me this comes off as a lame attempt at getting a positive headline for once. This has been an unaddressed problem for years, are they really going to start doing things right now? To their credit however, they are in a bit of a tough position – the thin line between free speech and hate speech is often very difficult to police. Looking forward to see if this policy actually works out and where Twitter can go from here!

  5. Thanks for the post Lauren, this is certainly a massive issue for Twitter that they are trying to get on top of, but clearly they aren’t sure how to tackle it. Jack Dorsey can get on top of high profile users, but what is he going to do about more low-level trolling, or those bot trolls that get on high interest posts bullying every day users. For example, if you look on a post with hundreds of responses, regular day users are often bullied. I personally have a tough time with this because I have never been bullied/feel like trolls is part of the internet. However, based on conversation in class and posts I have read on the topic, it is a massive issue for Twitter. I’m glad they acknowledge it publicly, but I do not think they really know how to convincingly tackle it.

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