Twitter has spent an entire year working on a common sense tool that would help users protect themselves from harassment and abuse, according to Bloomberg. So where is it?
Twitter has been criticised for its failure to combat abuse for years. The company has been embroiled in a number of public relations catastrophes recently, most notably after Breitbart tech blogger Milo Yiannopoulos sent his army of abusive alt-right eggs after Ghostbusters actress Leslie Jones, prompting her to briefly quit the social network.
Around the same time, BuzzFeed released a damning exposé about Twitter’s “10-year failure to stop harassment”.
“Twitter has not just tolerated abuse and hate speech, it’s virtually been optimised to accommodate it,” wrote Buzzfeed’s Charlie Warzel in the piece.
In an effort to triage bad publicity over the years, Twitter has made a lot of claims about its commitment to protecting users. And it’s been slowly, slowly endeavouring to do something about it. For example, earlier this month it began allowing non-verified users to use the quality control filter. The company also permanently banned Yiannopoulos from the service in an ultimately successful effort to get Jones back on the site.
Still, Twitter’s efforts to curb abuse have been paltry relative to the enormity of the problem. So how will the company make things better? Today’s anonymously sourced Bloomberg report reveals that Twitter has been developing “a keyword-based tool that will let people filter the posts they see, giving users a more effective way to block out harassing and offensive tweets”. The company has reportedly been working on the feature for an entire year.
It’s amazing that the image-bolstering information only leaked after being in development for 12 months, just after the company has been subject to heavy criticism. One might wonder why the company hasn’t been more forthright about the development of a common-sense feature that would help users protect themselves. And perhaps the biggest question is why a company with so many problems has failed to implement a tool that would halt vile Twitter eggs in their tracks.
Here’s the thing — if Twitter wanted to put a halt to abuse on its platform, it would have done so already. Facebook and Instagram, albeit flawed, do not have the same issues with harassment as Twitter does, and that’s because they have always had much stricter rules than Twitter. (No nipples allowed!)
Twitter maintains that it was very much founded upon the idea of “free speech”. The company’s former general counsel Alexander Macgillivray once said that “Twitter is the free speech wing of the free speech party”. And Twitter’s former head of news, Vivian Schiller, told BuzzFeed that “The whole ‘free speech wing of the free speech party’ thing — that’s not a slogan, that’s deeply, deeply embedded in the DNA of the company.”
Having celebrities publicly quit the site looks bad for Twitter, and damning reporting from major news outlets doesn’t help either. The company is finally taking baby steps to combat abuse because it has to, but it’s hard to believe that it’s taken a whole year for Twitter to develop a keyword-filtering tool. And at the end of the day, that feature would already be available to users if Twitter wanted it to be.