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Twitter Targets Returning Trolls in Ongoing Fight Against Online Harassment

Twitter Targets Returning Trolls in Ongoing Fight Against Online Harassment

Every few months, Twitter Inc. introduces changes to its namesake social network to undo its reputation as a playground for the Internet’s abusive trolls. So far, these incremental improvements haven’t transformed Twitter into a much safer space for self-expression—an uphill battle, say experts.

On Tuesday, Ed Ho, Twitter’s VP of engineering, announced in a blog post new measures that aim to hide abusive tweets and a new approach to keeping abusers from coming back on the service under a new name. The company also says it plans to roll out anti-abuse measures faster in the future.

Keeping people who’ve been kicked off Twitter from getting a new username has been nearly impossible. For the first time, the company will begin retaining user data to help keep track of evicted users, in case they try to return.

Twitter declined to name the specific user data it will require. But you can see what data the company retains about users in general in the app and website settings section titled “Your Twitter data.” For instance, Twitter tracks IP addresses and devices used to logged into accounts, to recognize users so they don’t have to log into the app each time they want to use it.

Twitter is also rolling out a change to its search results. It now removes tweets that contain “potentially sensitive content” from search, and will filter out tweets from accounts you’ve blocked or muted. (You can still find those tweets if you visit that person’s Twitter page.)

The company is also tuning its algorithm to identify “potentially abusive or low-quality tweets,” then collapse them so they’re not visible unless you seek them out. This move, which rolls out over the next few weeks, also makes it easier to surface “relevant conversations,” Mr. Ho said.

So far, Twitter’s changes haven’t made the social network tangibly safer for most users, said Paul Booth, an associate professor at DePaul University who researches how people use social media. “Not doing anything isn’t an option, but the lack of impact with what has been done shows just how hard of a problem this is to solve.”

Jack Dorsey, Twitter’s CEO, wrote in a tweet that the company is taking a new approach to abuse, “including having a more open and real-time dialogue about it every step of the way.”

Mr. Ho says that includes accelerating the process. “We didn’t move fast enough last year,” Mr. Ho wrote in a tweet. “Now we’re thinking about progress in days and hours not weeks and months.”

Prof. Booth warns that while speedier change sounds good, Twitter runs the risk of hindering progress if it moves too quickly. “Fast can sometimes lead you to faulty and that isn’t good,” Mr. Booth said. “Knowing if any specific tactic is truly effective or not”—including the three rolled out Tuesday—“usually takes time.”

In November, Twitter revamped its tools for muting users and reporting abusive content . Earlier, it began letting users report up to five offensive tweets at once. Twitter also created a Trust & Safety Council of outside advisers—made up of online safety advocates, researchers and academics—to provide feedback on any product or policy changes the company is working on.

 

Source: Wall Street Journal

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