Twitter has come a long way from its days of holding fast to its laissez faire abuse policy; the company revealed Tuesday that it is revamping its policy aimed at effectively blocking threats and harassment.
In a blog post, the company described how its policy is changing to include the prohibition of threats of violence or promoting violence in contrast to its previous policy, which merely prohibited direct, specific threats of violence against others. Now, Twitter will decide when to suspend the accounts of users suspected of harassing others, and it is reportedly testing a feature that will filter out out abusive tweets. The company says that the tool it is working on aims at helping to identify suspected abusive tweets and “limit their reach. This feature takes into account a wide range of signals and context that frequently correlates with abuse including the age of the account itself, and the similarity of a Tweet to other content that our safety team has in the past independently determined to be abusive.”
Several factors are at play behind Twitter’s about-face with regards to content censorship and user penalty. Backlash against the company for its sleepy responses to abusive activity is certainly one. The uproar around Gamergate over the last several months brought that older practice to light. While users in the past have sought help from Twitter when they have received threats through the network, the highly-publicized death threats and violent outpouring of content directed at women who criticize certain aspects of the gaming industry made it impossible for Twitter to stay mum about its abuse policy. Indeed, in February CEO Dick Costolo came forward admitting: “We suck at dealing with abuse and trolls on the platform and we’ve sucked at it for years…It’s no secret and the rest of the world talks about it every day. We lose core user after core user by not addressing simple trolling issues that they face every day.”
But the social network has been taking baby steps to attempt to squash abusive activity. In March, it updated its policy to explicitly prohibit revenge porn. And this latest revamped policy seems to take a stab at Twitter’s problem overall. The company said: “Our previous policy was unduly narrow and limited our ability to act on certain kinds of threatening behavior. The updated language better describes the range of prohibited content and our intention to act when users step over the line into abuse.” This move sets Twitter more in line with other social networks that realized earlier on that more aggressive anti-abuse and anti-harassment policies are necessary to protect users and deflect bad publicity. Of course, now the challenge lies in enforcing the policy.