Twitter's UK division has just published a blog post that seems to be a response to the massive public outcry by some users in the country over abusive treatment that one Twitter user sustained last week, for her role in getting the image of British literary legend Jane Austen put on the £10 note. Oddly, Twitter's blog post, titled "We hear you," doesn't directly acknowledge the massive flood of abusive tweets threatening rape and physical harm that were sent last week to feminist journalist Caroline Criado-Perez, in response to her helping to create the new £10 bill and her grassroots campaign to put more women figures on British currency. Instead, the Twitter UK post acknowledges the problem of abusive tweets more generally. "We are not blind to the reality that there will always be people using Twitter in ways that are abusive and may harm others," writes Del Harvey, Twitter UK's director of trust and safety.
"manually reviewing every Tweet is not possible due to Twitter’s global reach and level of activity."
However, Harvey also notes that Twitter faces a formidable technical and logistical hurdle in being able to combat these types of tweets, especially when they occur en masse as was the case with the tweets aimed at Criado-Perez. "While manually reviewing every Tweet is not possible due to Twitter’s global reach and level of activity, we use both automated and manual systems to evaluate reports of users potentially violating our Twitter Rules," Harvey writes. Twitter has in recent years struggled to maintain a balance between those calling for ways to takedown certain offending tweets, and the freedom of expression that led to the service's popularity in the first place. For instance, Twitter in January 2012 rolled out the ability to block specific tweets on a country-by-country basis, which was met with cries of censorship.
As for what Twitter UK is doing about the problem of abusive tweets now, Harvey repeats many of the same solutions the company offered in its prior statement to The Verge, namely that it already has a "report" button for individual tweets on iOS and mobile web which it's working to expand to Android. "Three weeks ago, we rolled out the ability to file reports from an individual Tweet on our iPhone app and the mobile version of our site, and we plan to bring this functionality to Android and desktop web users," Harvey says, adding: "We are constantly talking with our users, advocacy groups, and government officials to see how we can improve Twitter, and will continue to do so." It remains to be seen if the post will be well-received by Criado-Perez or those calling for Twitter to take more active role in limiting threatening messages on the service, but at the very least, the outcry has definitely forced the company to take a public stance on the issue. And for at least one abusive Twitter user in this particular case, the police have shown the willingness to act as their own moderation force (via arresting him).