After receiving much criticism for its handling of threats on the service, Twitter is announcing some improvements to its process for reporting abuse. Starting today, the company is rolling out what it says is a more streamlined process for reporting accounts that harass or threaten other users. The changes come after several high-profile instances of threats and abuse around the world, including ongoing harassment tied to Gamergate and the tweets that drove Zelda Williams off Twitter after her father’s death.
The changes announced today include reporting abuse with fewer steps, letting people who are not directly involved in the abuse flag it more easily, giving users a page where they can view and edit those whom they have previously blocked, and preventing blocked users from viewing the profiles of the people who blocked them. "The changes we're announcing today to our harassment reporting process and to our block feature are representative of our broader focus on giving people more control over their own Twitter experience, including their interactions with others," said Del Harvey, Twitter's vice president of trust and safety, in a statement. "We're also working to take advantage of more behavioral signals — including reports from bystanders — and using those signals to prioritize reports and speed up our review process."
It's not always clear what happens to users who make threats
Reporting abuse on Twitter has previously required filling out a nine-part questionnaire. The company has been criticized for not doing enough to stop harassment, particularly in cases where physical violence is threatened. Threats like those technically violate Twitter’s terms of service, but it’s not always clear what consequences face the users who make them. While complaints are reviewed manually, the process can be slow and opaque. (Consequences for abusers vary widely depending on the circumstances, but can include anything from a warning to a permanent ban.) The new reporting process at least contains a much shorter form and can be completed in a fraction of the time.
The changes being announced today, which will become available to all users over the next few weeks, also include improvements on the back end designed to help Twitter sort and prioritize the most severe threats for a more rapid response. For example, if 100 users all flag the same tweet, it could receive an expedited response. Twitter’s challenge is to make sure users aren’t gaming the system by reporting as abusive the tweets they simply disagree with; fans of Justin Bieber and One Direction have routinely used Twitter's reporting tools to accuse other users of abuse when they bad-mouth their idols.
A bulk-blocking feature is coming
Sources familiar with Twitter’s plans say more improvements to abuse-reporting are on the way, including a way to block multiple accounts at once. But the company is still working through how that feature should look and work, sources say. In the meantime, the company plans continued discussions with advocacy groups, nongovernmental organizations, and others about what it can do to prevent abuse while still promoting free expression.
The new tools offer users more control over what they see on Twitter and what they don’t. Ultimately, Twitter will be judged not by the quality of its tools for reporting abuse but by how well it addresses the reports it receives. For that, we’ll have to wait and see.