With news of people being targeted by Twitter trolls becoming more and more regular, the social media platform has stepped in and launched a new Safety Centre, as they commit to “building a safer Twitter”.
The company has faced wide-scale criticism for its failure to effectively tackle trolling and harassment on the site, despite several attempts over recent months.
The new Safety Centre essentially pulls together Twitter’s growing list of anti-troll features and shows users how to use them. It also offers tips and advice on how best to handle online abusers whilst setting out the company’s policies regarding harassment.
This latest intervention follows the introduction of several tools which now allow users to report abuse, even if the abuse is not directed at them, and help stop repeat offenders from returning to the site under different accounts. These recent efforts arrive just in time, as the issue of trolling threatens to spiral out of control.
How big is the issue?
As Twitter is becoming more central to the lives of its 302 million active users, its issues with disruptive users is growing massively and its prime problem is trolls.
Despite being much smaller than rival networks such as Facebook, research has found that a staggering 88% of online trolls are now on Twitter. No other social media platform suffers on that scale and it is attracting more and more headlines.
In the last 12 months, there have been a number of high profile cases which seem to have forced Twitter’s hand. In August 2014, the death of actor Robin Williams prompted some trolls to send abusive messages to his daughter, and in the same month, feminist media critic Anita Sarkeesian was leaving her home in fear for her life after a Twitter user made threats against her, suggesting that he knew where she lived. And in November last year, TV presenter Claudia Winkleman was taunted by trolls about an accident involving her daughter last Halloween.
Twitter has been blasted in the past for not doing enough to deal with trolls and in February this year, the company’s CEO even admitted: “We suck at dealing with abuse and trolls on the platform and we’ve sucked at it for years.”
Twitter has always had solutions to nullify online abusers but they have been relatively ineffective. Most notable has been the “block” button, which is a function which claims to block someone from harassing you. However, you’re only blocking an account, a person may still find you and harass you with new accounts.
During the same outburst Dick Costolo, who stepped down as CEO at the start of this month, declared that a change was needed to protect their users. He said: “We lose core user after core user by not addressing simple trolling issues that they face every day.”
Since that statement of intent, Twitter’s developers have been hard at work, rolling out a number of new tools to try combat the issue. Users can now create and block large lists of people who are harassing them and share them with others who are also being targeted.
They’ve also introduced tools which make it easier to report harassment to the police, and users can now hide abusive tweets using a “quality filter.” It’s also expanded the team that deal with abuse reports.
So what does Twitter’s new Safety Centre offer?
The page points you to all of the tools that you can use to control what others can see about you and to report accounts that may be targeting you. As well as showing users how to use them, the page clearly states Twitter’s policies on abuse and other violations.
Twitter also explains how it attempts to enforce those policies, and the way they handle reports of abuse and the abusers themselves.
“We take many actions in response to abuse violations. This can start with basic measures, such as requiring users to delete content or verify a phone number. More abusive accounts may also be locked out of Twitter for specific periods of time. In some cases, we permanently suspend accounts.”
The Safety Centre also provides specific sections for teenagers, families and educators, which explain what they can do to make sure kids are using the site safely and securely. The page is essentially a one-stop shop for learning how to deal with trolling on Twitter.
What to do if you are targeted
- Report them: If you are being harassed by an account or a number of accounts then report them to Twitter. Simply go to the account(s) and select the ‘more user actions’ button next to the follow button, which will bring up the option to report them. Alternatively, if you think the trolling is libellous or threatening, you can report it to the police.
- Block them: If you simply want to ignore the harassment, again you will need to go to the account and click the ‘more user actions’ button and select block. Blocking the account stops the troll from viewing your profile, sending you mentions and interacting with you in their feed.
- Ignore Them: Trolls want attention. They want to get you angry and feel uncomfortable. As difficult as it might be, ignoring a troll could be the best tactic because when they don’t get a response, they’ll most likely go away. Pew Research Centre found that 60% of people choose to ignore online harassment and of that 60%, 83% thought their decision to ignore it was effective in making the situation better.
- Make them visible: Retweeting the nasty comments sent by your abuser can be also be a really effective way of making them stop. Trolls thrive on anonymity but by publicising their harassment and putting them in the public eye, you threaten to take that power from them.
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