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Twitter is surveying users about how much they get harassed online

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Twitter, as its CEO Dick Costolo has put it, sucks at dealing with harassment and trolls. It's been trying to get better — although its changes have sometimes misfired badly in the past. Right now, though, it's apparently apparently trying to gauge just how big of a problem Twitter abuse really is. Its mobile app is inviting some users (specifically, verified users, as far as we can tell) to take a short survey about their personal experiences and opinions on the platform. It doesn't seem to ask the same questions of everyone, but among other things, it asks how important it is to see interactions, how much they worry about harassment on Twitter, and the overall level of abuse users receive on other services, like YouTube.

This is the first time we've seen this survey, but Adria Richards, who was at the center of a vitriolic fight about tech and gender in 2013 and is still regularly harassed, tweeted about receiving an invitation on February 18th.

Twitter abuse survey

How helpful is this, exactly? It's a start, and it's certainly not harmful. It comes after a change that (theoretically) makes it harder for suspended users to come back with a new account, requiring them to verify an email address or phone number if they continue to harass. None of it is a panacea, and if stopping harassment in general is hard, it's particularly difficult on Twitter. The features that make Twitter unique and fun — including its acceptance of pseudonyms and its combination of private chat tool and public megaphone — also make it easy to attack someone, get banned, create a new handle, and go back on the offensive.

Twitter has effected some important changes over the past several months, including a simpler form for reporting abuse, but the most useful tools are still unofficial, jury-rigged, and imperfect solutions like block lists. More than anything, this is a way for Twitter to remind its high-profile users that while it might not be even close to a solution, it's at least trying to listen to their problems.