Twitter steps up the fight on hate speech

Twitter announces new tools to fight hate speech, including a mute button. But will it work?

Richard Drew/AP/File
Twitter, long criticized as a hotbed for online harassment, is expanding ways to curb the amount of abuse users see and making it easier to report such conduct.

After a fraught presidential election, in which both major candidates and their supporters used social media platforms to take shots at one another, Twitter is cracking down on its hate speech policies.

Twitter says that it has seen the rate of abuse, bullying, and harassment rise on its platform over the past several years. To counter mistreatment online, Twitter announced this week that it will institute several new policies in order to crack down on abuse.

“Abusive conduct removes the chance to see and share all perspectives around an issue, which we believe is critical to moving us all forward. In the worst cases, this type of conduct threatens human dignity, which we should all stand together to protect,” wrote Twitter in a blog post about its changing policies.

“We don’t expect these announcements to suddenly remove abusive conduct from Twitter. No single action by us would do that. Instead we commit to rapidly improving Twitter based on everything we observe and learn.”

One step, Twitter says, is to make it easier to hide abusive content, even content that is directed towards other users instead of oneself.

Previously, Twitter’s “mute” feature allowed users to block accounts they did not want to hear from. Now, Twitter users can target notifications, and can even block specific phrases or keywords.

Similarly, the social media platform is giving users more teeth when they encounter online abuse, creating a better reporting system that will help Twitter address harmful speech more quickly.

To speed up response times, Twitter announced that it has retrained all of its support staff. Complaints should be met with a faster response than ever.

“There’s a fine line between free expression and abuse, and this launch is another step on the path toward getting rid of abuse,” said Twitter’s vice president of trust and security, Del Harvey, according to The New York Times. “We’ve been launching new products to address this, and the cadence of product releases is picking up. We have a lot planned on this path.”

Twitter has been confronting hate speech online for a long time now, as allegations of online abuse continue to surface.

In July, Saturday Night Live cast member Leslie Jones implied that she would no longer use her Twitter account after she was the target of hateful attacks.

“I feel like I'm in a personal hell. I didn't do anything to deserve this. It's just too much. It shouldn't be like this. So hurt right now,” tweeted Ms. Jones.

Jones told Twitter that it was not enough to merely freeze the Twitter accounts at fault, but rather that greater steps should be taken. Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey told Jones to reach out to him personally.

Twitter officials say that it can be difficult to draw an appropriate line between free speech and harassment.

“We know that our efforts to protect both the safety of our users and their right to express themselves freely will create tensions that can be difficult to resolve,” wrote Twitter general counsel Vijaya Gadde. “But those difficulties simply acknowledge the importance of those underlying values. These are tough issues that challenge Twitter and the Internet generally....”

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.