Twitter Plans to Hide Abusive Tweets, Block Repeat Offenders

  • Company gets tougher on harassment with product updates
  • Sensitive tweets will be blocked from search by default

Twitter to Crack Down on Abusive Tweets

Twitter Inc. says it has come up with new ways to make abusive tweeters less effective: hiding their content and preventing banned users from creating new accounts.

The updates, detailed in a blog post, come after years of criticism that the company hasn’t done enough to combat abuse and harassment. It’s part of a new push under Chief Executive Officer Jack Dorsey to clean up the social media service. On Twitter, where people don’t have to use their real names, the same environment that encourages open discussion also helps internet trolls thrive.

The changes will make it harder for abusers to be heard because they’ll be hidden in search results and replies, possibly decreasing their motivation. Twitter won’t immediately delete the content that’s deemed harmful -- it will just require more clicks to get to it. By preventing permanently blocked accounts from resurfacing under a different name, San Francisco-based Twitter may curb the number of users who create multiple log-ins just to attack others.

Twitter’s failure to curb harassment has been a main complaint of users, and was one reason the company failed to get a bid from potential acquirers, including Walt Disney Co., when it was exploring a sale last year. When Dorsey became CEO in 2015, he named user safety one of his top priorities. The prior CEO, Dick Costolo, said last week at a conference that he regrets not solving the problem during his tenure.

After several quarters of stagnant user growth, Twitter’s taking concrete steps to make its product more pleasant to use. But the updates may not draw more people, said James Cakmak, an analyst at Monness Crespi Hardt & Co.

“At best, it helps with retention of existing users,” Cakmak said. And it could set Twitter up for other issues -- if the technology is ineffective, if Twitter goes overboard with what it hides, or if its algorithms don’t hide the right things, he said. “They have to walk a fine line. By taking ownership of the policing, it’s critical that they maintain objectivity.”

Several prominent people have been banned from the service, including Milo Yiannopoulos, the controversial British writer at the conservative website Breitbart News. Known as @nero on the site, Yiannopoulos was excluded for leading harassment of Ghostbusters actress Leslie Jones. Martin Shkreli, the brash former pharmaceutical executive, was suspended earlier this year after he harassed a female reporter online. But the more common trolls are those who hide behind anonymous user names and create new accounts whenever they’re blocked.

With the updates, Twitter is providing some technological solutions to a problem that in the past was mostly addressed by a human team around the world that reviews content after it’s reported by users. The company said it is responding to its own research and feedback from users frustrated at the time between the abuse and when it’s dealt with by the company.

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