Twitter, at its best, is a fascinating window into the conversations of communities around the world. But Twitter, at its worst, is a place where those same communities can rise up together and target their enemies, often anonymously and often without penalty.
Recognizing that destructive dynamic, Twitter today announced updates to its abuse-prevention functionality, making it simpler for users to flag and report harassing tweets.
“[W]e’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,” Twitter director of product management and user safety Shreyas Doshi wrote in a post on the company’s blog. The changes make it easier to report observed harassment directed at other users, bringing the power of the crowd to the defense of harassment targets, and include improvements to back-end tools that will enable the company to react more quickly to complaints of abuse.
Twitter’s announcement comes in the wake of Gamergate, a vicious and often ugly rhetorical battle over the future of gaming–and the role of women in that future–which swept the platform and left some female game designers fearing for their safety. A visualization of 72 hours’ worth of #Gamergate tweets revealed highly polarized communities engaging in little to no productive dialogue, and an avalanche of newly opened, pseudonymous Twitter accounts engaged in the verbal flame-throwing. The online harassment became so intense that outspoken feminist gaming advocate Anita Sarkeesian chose to cancel a planned talk at Utah State University after receiving threats of gun violence.
Early last month, the nonprofit Women, Action & the Media (WAM) formed a partnership with Twitter to better understand tweet harassment, and last week said in a blog post that it had completed the first data-gathering phase of that project.
For now the new reporting tools are available only to select Twitter users. Doshi says his team will roll them out more broadly in the coming weeks, and add new functionality in the months that follow, presumably influenced by WAM’s research.