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Why Twitter's new anti-harassment tools will fail

Mike Elgan | Feb. 13, 2017
Twitter's new policies won't solve the harassment problem, and they'll ruin engagement, too

(Researchers last month discovered a network of 350,000 fake user accounts controlled by automated bots that had existed undetected for years.)

The anonymity of Twitter users makes me doubt that the company can succeed in their attempt to "identify people who have been permanently suspended and stop them from creating new accounts." How can you "identify people" without, you know, identifying people? And how will Twitter avoid blocking new and legitimate accounts by accident?

It gets worse: One of Twitter's new anti-harassment systems itself can be used for harassment.

Twitter promises to remove tweets from search results posted by accounts that have been blocked or muted. This is the best thing that ever happened to haters.

Now abusers can simply block or mute their victim in an organized effort, or by a single user with dozens of accounts, and thereby remove their victim from search results. Victims may be unaware that abusers have blocked them from search results.

Many victims of harassment will be automatically silenced in Twitter search the second this change goes into effect (it's being rolled out over the coming weeks).

For example, let's say a woman has been speaking out on Twitter about sexism in video games. And let's say she has attracted haters and has been arguing about it on Twitter for the past two years. No doubt she has been blocked by dozens or hundreds of Twitter users. Now, when the new rules go into effect, her tweets in the past, present and future will be removed from search results.

If the haters haven't silenced her yet, Twitter will finish the job.

Only three methods can effectively curb out-of-control harassment on social sites: user moderation of comments, user ranking of comments and the disallowance of anonymity.

Twitter rejects all three methods, and so chronically suffers from a reputation for harassment.

Imagine if Twitter accepted all three. It could be the greatest site on the Internet.

Instead, Twitter has now implemented software-controlled moderation and other systems that will reduce the quality of Twitter conversations and silence constructive users. They will be gamed by active trolls and generally result in a lower quality social site.

Twitter is in trouble. The company isn't growing, profiting or succeeding.

Twitter should be the world's town square, a level playing field that unites everyone in conversation and sharing. Never before has there been a social site so relevant, and at the same time so unsuccessful.

Twitter is ruined by its reputation as a hotbed of harassment, trolling and vitriol. And it's so unnecessary.

Twitter's refusal to implement user moderation, which would solve the problem overnight at close to zero cost to the company, is business malpractice in the extreme and an abdication of the trust that millions of users have placed in the company.

Twitter wants to be great. But the company's leaders simply won't allow that to happen.

 

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