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....”

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