By Manuel McDonnell Smith
With a low key announcement on its United Kingdom blog, the popular microblogging service Twitter has unveiled new rules and features aimed at those who use offensive, derogatory and threatening language on the site.
The site has introduced a one-click report button in the latest version of its web and mobile applications. Now users can report abusive language right from the offending post, instead of having to navigate to another page in order to file a complaint. In addition, the company updated its terms of service to make clear that it will not tolerate abusive behavior, saying, “We want people to feel safe on Twitter, and we want the Twitter Rules to send a clear message to anyone who thought that such behavior was, or could ever be, acceptable.”
Twitter also promises the hiring of additional staff to process abuse reports, as well as a promotional campaign aimed at reducing the prevalence of online hate speech.
The bold move by Twitter follows public outrage over attacks on Stella Creasy (a member of Parliament) and Caroline Criado-Perez, two British women who used their accounts to promote efforts to have a woman placed on an English banknote. In outrageously offensive terms, two posters promised to retaliate against the women with rape if the campaign was successful.
Reaction to the attacks prompted Twitter UK General Manager Tony Wang to issue a series of statements over the weekend on his personal account, including, “I personally apologize to the women who have experienced abuse on Twitter and for what they have gone through.”
Although the offenses that led to the rule changes occurred in the UK, Wang said the new policies will apply globally.
Defining and Destroying the Problem
Twitter joins other popular social-networking sites, including YouTube, Google and Instagram, which clearly define hate speech and spell out consequences for users who participate in such activities. Facebook announced increased measures to identify and block hate speech earlier this year, after women’s groups pointed out offensive groups on that site with titles like “Kicking Your Girlfriend in the Fanny Because She Won’t Make You a Sandwich.” That page has since been removed.
Although the online universe creates new opportunities for people to exercise free speech, some users abuse the liberty in order to spread racist language and stereotypes. The problem was particularly endemic during Barack Obama’s presidential campaign.