How Can Twitter Better Combat Online Harassment?

There will always be trolls on the Internet, but what Twitter needs is to be proactive and deliver stronger messaging about how it's addressing the problem.

There’s an ugly side to social media. The same platforms that provide the infrastructure for raising awareness for social causes are also used to harass and bully others. Most of the big networks handle harassment better than others, but Twitter is one of the biggest that seems to grapple with this challenge frequently.

Recently, Twitter has been taking steps to address the problem. In addition to updating its policy on hate speech near the end of 2015, Twitter announced a Trust & Safety Council, wherein it works with advocates, academics and grassroots organisations to provide input on platform safety products and protocols.

According to Amy Edel-Vaughn, content developer at creative agency EGC Group, these efforts are great for generating conversation, but the bigger issue is in the enforcement of conduct policies. This is a problem across social networks and at Twitter especially. She said:

The onus is really on users to report, and then once it’s actually reported, the team at the social platform has to review each post. A lot of times once something’s already been posted, the damage is done.

The process is cumbersome, indeed, as demonstrated by a study conducted by Women, Action & the Media, which pointed to “tweet and delete” and false flag reporting as serious weaknesses in Twitter’s user-reporting policies.

Edel-Vaughn echoed this concern, noting that there is no proactive way to address trolling and abuse, which can make Twitter feel like an unwelcoming environment:

I think it’s one of the things that’s definitely Twitter as a platform. As much as it’s a great way for businesses, brands and organizations to connect people through hashtags, be part of a conversation and breaking news happens there … I think [Twitter’s] active rate is not as high as it could be if it didn’t have this negative reputation.

Infrastructure is a big challenge, as well, according to Edel-Vaughn, who added that even Facebook still has a lot of content users might consider abusive. However, because Facebook is responsive and has a very clear process, strict policies about what can and cannot be posted and really smart messaging, it doesn’t seem to have the same image problems as Twitter.

People also spend a time differently on Facebook than they do on Twitter. Facebook is known as a place to connect and engage with friends and family, where on Twitter is just a “fast-moving news ticker” and it can be overwhelming.

Edel-Vaughn admitted that while she doesn’t really have any solutions for how to address the infrastructure issues, Twitter could use some smarter, clearer messaging regarding how it is handling harassment and abuse on the platform:

It would be nice to see [Twitter] when talking about this roll out a campaign that involves unified creative, interesting copy and a hashtag. This is a platform organizations use to push out messages. I think Twitter could be messaging harder and stronger for themselves.

Readers: How can Twitter improve how it handles harassment?


Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

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