Twitter Gets Serious About Abuse

Twitter has always had policies that put some restrictions on abusive behavior. Enforcing those policies has been difficult, or Twitter hasn’t been all that serious about it. That may have changed this week. You can read the new Twitter rules here.

In a blog post yesterday announcing the policy update, Twitter laid out the inherent difficulty – they view the protection of free speech as the cornerstone of their platform, and therefore their censorship and enforcement efforts:

twitter-tags“Over the past year, we’ve taken several steps to fight abuse in order to protect freedom of expression: We’ve empowered users with tools for blocking, muting, and reporting abusive behaviour, and evolved our policy to capture more types of abusive behaviour. We’ve also increased our investment in policy enforcement so that we can handle more reports with greater efficiency, and bolstered educational resources through a new Twitter Safety Centre.”

In our view, it doesn’t need to be that difficult a line to draw. Freedom of expression is a great cornerstone for a policy, but it’s not the only valid reason for cracking down on hateful users. If a user is abusing another user, Twitter could have proactively taken action. Instead, they have largely relied on users reporting the abuse after it happened, or defending themselves by blocking the abuser.

Being proactive may be more difficult than it appears. Undoubtedly, some tweets that appear to be abusive may be considered protected free speech. Now Twitter has unveiled their new rules on harassment, which include the following:

Harassment: You may not incite or engage in the targeted abuse or harassment of others. Some of the factors that we may consider when evaluating abusive behavior include:

  • if a primary purpose of the reported account is to harass or send abusive messages to others;
  • if the reported behavior is one-sided or includes threats;
  • if the reported account is inciting others to harass another account; and
  • if the reported account is sending harassing messages to an account from multiple accounts.

Hateful conduct: You may not promote violence against or directly attack or threaten other people on the basis of race, ethnicity, national origin, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, religious affiliation, age, disability, or disease. We also do not allow accounts whose primary purpose is inciting harm towards others on the basis of these categories.

The rules look good; how Twitter enforces them, and how proactive they will be, remain to be seen. Time will tell.

A note to parents: If your teen is using Twitter, he is very unlikely to read these rules. It’s a good idea to go over the rules with him, and discuss how they might apply. Many tweets which begin as jokes can devolve into cyberbullying.  We are heavily in favor of Twitter being a kinder, gentler place for young users.



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