Even before Gamergate turned the network into a veritable Ground Zero for Internet harassment, Twitter had been vowing to revamp abuse policies that made reporting too difficult for victims and left observers powerless to help besieged Twitter-friends.
Now, at last, it would appear the company has begun to make good on that promise: In a blog post Tuesday afternoon, Twitter’s Shreyas Doshi announced the site had streamlined its reporting process in several big ways, including making it easier for victims to report problems from mobile phones and letting third-party witnesses flag tweets on their behalf, too.
Previously when users tried to report abuse, they had to fill out a lengthy form — a particularly onerous task on a smartphone. That form is now shorter and quicker to complete.
Users can also now flag problematic tweets for review, even if the tweets weren’t directed at them. Twitter’s form used to ask your relationship to the abuse victim, and disqualify your report if you weren’t an authorized representative.
These changes are critical for a couple reasons. While it’s been possible to block and report individual users for years, high-profile or divisive tweeters often face other types of abuse that the system doesn’t account for. If a user is swarmed by dozens of trolls, for instance, it’s difficult to block and report each one. If a blocked and reported user opens a second Twitter account to continue the harassment, the same problem arises. And when the organization Women, Action & the Media partnered with Twitter on an “unprecedented” initiative to research and address abuse, it raised a series of other issues Twitter policy didn’t address: things like networks of sock puppet accounts, and fake photos or quotes “from” the victim, circulated to drum up vitriol.
Per a recent report by the Pew Research Center, 40 percent of all Internet users have experienced harassment online. And on Monday, the Supreme Court began hearing its first case on threats made via social media; it’s widely seen as a recognition of exactly how widespread and pressing the online harassment issue has become.
These latest tweaks won’t fix that problem entirely, of course: Alas, there’s no indication that Twitter is doing anything to staff up its moderation teams, which WAM faulted just last month, and there’s still nothing stopping a blocked troll from simply signing up for another Twitter account and continuing his campaign from there.
But these changes should make it easier for victims to push back against mobs of abusers, since they’ll be able to block them faster and with the help of friends. Twitter’s also promising more fixes in the future … as it’s done many times before.
“We are nowhere near being done making changes in this area,” Doshi promises. “In the coming months, you can expect to see additional user controls, further improvements to reporting and new enforcement procedures for abusive accounts.”