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Twitter cracks down on harassment by rearranging paragraphs in its terms of service

Spot the difference, if you can

In the wake of former CEO Dick Costolo admitting the company "suck[s] at dealing with abuse," Twitter has devoted many blog posts to explaining how seriously it takes the issue. It hired more people to enforce its abuse policies, and added new tools for reporting harassment. And to cap off the year, today the company rearranged some paragraphs in its terms of service, and celebrated the move in a new blog post.

"The updated language emphasizes that Twitter will not tolerate behavior intended to harass, intimidate, or use fear to silence another user's voice," Megan Cristina, the company's director of trust and safety, wrote in a blog post. "As always, we embrace and encourage diverse opinions and beliefs — but we will continue to take action on accounts that cross the line into abuse." That sounded like a good thing, but when I pulled up Twitter's new rules, they looked an awful lot like Twitter's old rules.

If you see any meaningful changes in this document, please email us

The one significant addition is a new section that bans "hateful conduct" that targets users on the basis of their race, nationality, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, age, disability, or disease. The rule also bans creating multiple accounts for the primary purpose of inciting harm toward others based on those categories. At the same time, the old harassment rules likely prevented this sort of behavior as well.

The truth is that updated rules are meaningless unless the company strictly enforces them. Cristina said the company is reducing abuse on the platform by requiring abusers to complete a series of steps before their accounts are unlocked, including deleting the offending tweets and verifying a phone number. But that's been true since April.

Twitter has made some real improvements to harassment reporting this year. But the company still suffers from the perception that trolls run amok on the service, and that credible threats of violence against some segments of users — particularly women — are ignored. "We lose core user after core user by not addressing simple trolling issues that they face every day," Costolo said in February. It's hard to see how today's update addresses much of anything.

Twitter has not yet responded to a request for comment.