Abusive tweets being silenced by new Twitter rules

Three months after finally making a few tangible moves to curb an online abuse problem nearly as iconic as its bluebird logo, Twitter Inc. is pushing its efforts a step further.

The company announced Tuesday that moving forward, its staff will be taking measures to prevent the creation of new abusive accounts, produce safer search results, and outrightly disable potentially abusive tweets.

“Making Twitter a safer place is our primary focus,” Twitter vice-president of engineering Ed Ho wrote in a Feb. 7 blog post. “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.”

Though in many ways last year was among Twitter’s best yet as a social media icon, the company has struggled to convert its cultural cachet into revenue, laying off hundreds and disabling its popular six-second video sharing platform, Vine, last year.

And in a year that saw one of its most high-profile (and, arguably, more abusive) users elected leader of the U.S., the company’s platform also played host to a series of less savoury messages including nearly 20,000 anti-semitic tweets aimed at 800 journalists and a wave of racist comments aimed at Saturday Night Live cast member and Ghostbusters actress Leslie Jones.

Yet for all the less-than-flattering headlines, Twitter’s user base continues to grow, surpassing 317 million monthly active users last year, a significant boost from its 2015 average of 302 million monthly users.

In fact, the company’s present efforts began last February with the creation of a new Trust and Safety Council, which thus far has helped the company redefine its hateful conduct policy, retrain its support teams to more efficiently identify online abuse, and given users the ability to mute key words, phrases, and entire conversations they don’t want to see notifications for.

Last week, the company also introduced a new feature that provides users with additional ways to report abusive tweets.

To help enforce the new changes, Twitter staff will be making a concerted effort to identify users who have been permanently suspended and prevent them from creating new accounts.

“This focuses more effectively on some of the most prevalent and damaging forms of behavior, particularly accounts that are created only to abuse and harass others,” Ho wrote.

The safer search, meanwhile, will remove tweets that contain potentially sensitive content and tweets from blocked and muted accounts from search results. While this content will still be available if users truly want to find it, it will no longer clutter search results, he wrote.

Finally, the company’s team has also been working on learning to identify and collapse potentially abusive and what Ho called “low-quality” replies which, like the safe search results, will remain accessible if viewers truly wish to find them.

“In the days and weeks ahead, we will continue to roll out product changes… and will update you on progress every step of the way,” Ho wrote. “With every change, we’ll learn, iterate, and continue to move at this speed until we’ve made a significant impact that people can feel.”

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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Eric Emin Wood
Eric Emin Wood
Former editor of ITBusiness.ca turned consultant with public relations firm Porter Novelli. When not writing for the tech industry enjoys photography, movies, travelling, the Oxford comma, and will talk your ear off about animation if you give him an opening.

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