Ah, the online troll. They're annoying and often hard to block. As online harassment becomes a regular occurrence, social networks are coming under pressure to create safeguards against these online bullies.
Twitter announced Tuesday that it is taking a step to protect users by making it easier to report and block abusive behavior on the site. The changes are aimed at giving users more options to report the kinds of harassment they're experiencing, be it name-calling or violent threats, and have been designed to make the process more intuitive. The new measure also allows bystanders to report attacks against other individuals.
"So, we’re improving the reporting process to make it much more mobile-friendly, require less initial information, and, overall, make it simpler to flag Tweets and accounts for review," Shreyas Doshi, who oversees user safety a Twitter, said in a blog post. "And to enable faster response times, we’ve made the first of several behind-the-scenes improvements to the tools and processes that help us review reported Tweets and accounts."
Twitter is also rolling out a new "blocked accounts" page to let users manage what accounts they've restricted. On the new page, which is accessible from the settings menu, users can unblock users once things have cooled down. In the past, users had no way to see which accounts were blocked, and there was no way to unblock a user. The new features are only available to some users right now, but Twitter will be rolling them out to everyone over the next few weeks.
Harassment has become a common experience for online users. The Pew Research Center released a study in October that found 40 percent of online users have experienced some form of online harassment, and 73 percent of online users have seen someone else get harassed online. Of those who personally experienced harassment, 66 percent said it happened on a social network.
Social networks are currently trying to walk the fine line between allowing users the freedom to express themselves while also stopping abusive behavior. Twitter has been an arena for some high profile harassments. After the death of actor Robin Williams, his daughter, Zelda Williams, deleted her account on the site because trolls were posting horrific comments. Then there is the ongoing #GamerGate campaign, which began as a protest movement but was soon criticized for misogynistic comments against females gamers.
"We must make sure it's not so easy to engage in abuse, but also not cross the line to make it so that you can't post any content," Del Harvey, Twitter's head of trust and safety, said, according to The Washington Post.
The question of what constitutes a threat could soon be taken out of the hands of social networks. On Monday, the US Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Elonis v. United States. The court's decision in the matter could draw a line between posts that are protected under freedom of speech laws and comments that are threatening.
For it's part, Twitter says it isn't done releasing changes that will protect users from online harassment.
"In the coming months, you can expect to see additional user controls, further improvements to reporting and new enforcement procedures for abusive accounts," Mr. Doshi wrote. "We’ll continue to work hard on these changes in order to improve the experience of people who encounter abuse on Twitter."