Twitter Releases New Suite Of Anti-Harassment Tools, Promises Faster Response Times For Dealing With Abuse

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Twitter this morning has released a new set of anti-harassment tools that make it easier for users to flag abuse on the network, as well as describe more specifically why they’re blocking or reporting a Twitter account.

Twitter had made it fairly simple to report spam, but the new tools allow users to report a variety of troubles, including impersonations, harassment, and even self-harm or suicide. In addition, users can report the harassment on behalf of other users, even if they’re not the target themselves, which is a big change.

When “harassment” is chosen as the option in the new abuse reporting workflow, users are asked to choose “who is being affected?” and can answer “I am” or “Someone else is.” They can then choose from a menu where they’re asked to describe what the abuser is doing, with options like “being disrespectful or offensive,” “harassing me” or “threatening violence or physical harm.”

The changes have been implemented in a way that makes them more mobile friendly, and require less initial information, says Twitter. The company also says that behind the scenes, it has made several improvements as well in order to respond more quickly to these abuse reports. (Likely it will move the “violence” and “physical threats” reports to the front of the queue in order to act faster.)

Another new feature is the Blocked Accounts page now available from Twitter.com’s Settings menu. This shows you which accounts you’ve blocked in the past, and will feature even more controls and options in the months ahead, says Twitter.

Notably, the company has also revamped the way the blocking system operates…yes, again. Before, blocked accounts could continue to tweet and respond to you but you would no longer see this activity. Now, blocked accounts will no longer be able to view your profile at all.

Before, these abusers’ accounts could see your profile, but couldn’t follow you – a following request would be met with a message that they’ve been blocked. That change doesn’t necessarily mean that they’ll have no way to view the abuse victim’s content, as other users could still quote or retweet it, or the abusers could simply log out. However, it makes things a bit more difficult for a harasser to respond in real-time to what someone is saying and continue to fuel the fire of hate on Twitter.

Twitter has changed its policies around how blocking behaves several times now, and this appears to be something of a reversion to an older policy. So far, no policy have effectively culled Twitter’s often darker side where anonymous accounts have been allowed to threaten users with violence, including rape and murder, and tweet hate speech to anyone listening. The problem comes from Twitter’s policy to support anonymous accounts, identified only by an @handle and authenticated via an email. But that also means that Twitter can be used more safely by those with authoritarian governments in power, so it’s something of a trade-off.

The social network has often been viewed as being something of reactive instead of proactive when it comes to its policies around abuse and user protections, though. This most recent move comes after a number or reports of “Twitter harassment,” especially those involving women. These have ranged from celebs like Robin Williams’ daughter Zelda who was harassed after her father died, and, of course, the nightmare that has been #gamergate which has led to vicious harassment of women like feminist media critic Anita Sarkeesian, indie game developer Brianna Wu, and indie developer Zoe Quinn.

Twitter says the updates are available now for a small group of users, and in the coming weeks, it will roll them out to everyone. It also says that users will soon see additional user controls, further improvements to reporting and new enforcement procedures for abusive accounts, but doesn’t go into detail.