Ever since it gave birth to its first anonymous, hateful egg, Twitter has been promising to do something to repair its reputation as a verbal battle royale of vitriolic threats and malicious dog-piling. After a decade of half-steps (and steps back, in some cases), Twitter has now given an actual timeline for when it will implement what it hopes are policy changes that will result in a less menacing social media platform — but can Twitter actually stuff its nasty genie back in the bottle?
One Thing at a Time
The calendar Twitter released today includes a detailed timeline of when planned features and rules are supposed to role out between today and the first week of January.
Up first are the changes to the non-consensual nudity (i.e. “revenge porn”) policy, joined by an ability to appeal account suspensions.
Those will be followed in November by an initiative to “educate abusers about our rules,” as well as some updates to the rules themselves. The updated terms of service will include language about violent groups, hateful imagery and symbols, “unwanted sexual advances,” and an “Expanded definition” of “spam and related behaviors.”
Later in the month, Twitter says it will be updating its process for reviewing reports, and adding new tools that help them process reports about harassment, abuse, and spam when they come in.
Then, in December, Twitter plans to update the way it handles “witness” reports — the ones you send when you are not the target of an abuser or harasser, but see it happening. Updates to the review process for witness reports are scheduled to be completed in January.
Twitter, as a platform, has never been immune to abuse and harassment — but in recent years, streams of abuse have become rivers, and then tsunamis.
After actor Robin Williams’ death in 2014, his daughter Zelda was driven off of Twitter by a wave of abuse. As we noted at the time, there’s really nothing Twitter can do to prevent some users from being, well, utter a-holes.
But the service can take action to mitigate the massive, unrelenting, targeted hate campaigns that regularly strike anyone — especially, but not exclusively, women and people of color — who speaks out about a cultural or political issue.
Then-CEO Dick Costolo admitted in internal emails in 2015 that “we suck at dealing with abuse and trolls, and we’ve sucked at it for years.”
He added that he was, “frankly ashamed of how poorly we’ve dealt with this issue,” adding, “There’s no excuse for it.”
That was more than two years ago. Many times since, the company has promised to do something. Consider:
- Oct. 18, 2017: Twitter cracks down on nudity, harassment, and violence… again
- July 20, 2017: Twitter claims its anti-abuse tools are working, but where’s the data?
- March 1, 2017: Twitter confirms it’s trying to identify abusive accounts before they get reported
- Feb. 7, 2017: Twitter adds new features to hide, possibly prevent some abuse
- Jan. 31, 2017: Twitter (again) promises a new approach to reduce harassment and abuse
- Nov. 15, 2016: Twitter improving tools to hide and report harassment and abuse
To many users, however, the company’s endless promises to do better seem more than a bit rote, at this stage, and so far most of the “solutions” on offer have evidently failed to curb the problem in any meaningful way.