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BLOG: Twitter's 'Report Abuse' button won't deter stalkers and other creeps

Bill Snyder | Sept. 4, 2013
Twitter enabled a "Report Abuse" button for its Web interface and iOS and Android apps in an effort to block abusers. But is it really effective? Here's why

Following a series of disturbing incidents, Twitter made it much easier to report abuse via the Web or iOS or Android devices. Twitter's move is a step in the right direction, but a determined stalker or other creep won't, I fear, find it hard to circumvent the new safeguard.

Twitter accounts are linked to email addresses. If a user's account is locked or disabled by Twitter for abuse, it's not hard to simply create a new email address and link it to a new Twitter account. Then the abuser is back in business. Twitter isn't being very specific about the measures it takes to protect users — and that makes sense — but unless it traces email accounts back to specific IP addresses, it will be difficult to keep determined creeps from coming back in new disguises.

A determined bad actor with a bit of expertise could also easily mask his or her IP address using Tor or a similar service that routes traffic through anonymous servers. Spammers, a real annoyance on Twitter, are still proliferating despite Twitter's efforts to block them.

Twitter did say it is assigning more staffers to help police the service.

Twitter abuse is not a new problem, but the issue recently came to a boil in the United Kingdom when a number of female journalists and a member of Parliament received ugly tweets threatening rape and a bombing.

The Twitter threats came after freelance journalist and feminist campaigner Caroline Criado-Perez led a campaign to have novelist Jane Austen featured on a U.K. banknote. Criado-Perez received a large number of abusive tweets, and when politicians and writers came to her defense, they too were targeted. (Really? Who hates Jane Austen so much that they send a tweet like the one below?)

abusive tweet

One of Criado-Perez's supporters launched a petition asking Twitter to make it easier to report abuse. The petition tallied 139,000 signatures, according to

Twitter says it had planned to add the new Report Abuse button before the petition was circulated.

"We actually started introducing the reporting function many weeks before that petition," a Twitter spokesperson told CNET, "starting with iOS apps and the mobile web, and now with Android and the desktop web."

I suspect some abusers will slip through Twitter's barriers no matter how hard the company tries to stop them. It's unfortunate, but people may have to accept that social media will be used for abuse as long as abusers have easy access to the services.


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