Twitter’s latest answer to harassment: Starve the trolls

The micro-blogging site rolled out new anti-harassment features that visually blocks abusive tweets from users’ feeds.

Twitter co-founder and CEO Jack Dorsey. CREDIT: AP Photo/Mary Altaffer, File
Twitter co-founder and CEO Jack Dorsey. CREDIT: AP Photo/Mary Altaffer, File

After years of criticism that it wasn’t taking harassment seriously, Twitter is planning to roll out some of its strongest tools yet to combat abusive content on the platform by virtually putting Twitter trolls in dark, soundproof room.

The company announced several improvements in a blog post Tuesday that it says will help make Twitter a safer place — including shutting down sock-puppet accounts created by users who have been previously suspended or banned, removing abusive tweets in search results, and collapsing “low quality” replies.

Following the announcement, Twitter co-founder and CEO Jack Dorsey said the company was taking a new approach to online safety.

Dorsey emphasized the company’s dedication to solving its harassment program in a separate tweet that seemingly singled out BuzzFeed for its searing expose on how the company’s decade-long failure to stop harassment.

Though the features aren’t yet available, Tuesday’s announcement signals that Twitter is not just listening to criticism, but also putting forth substantial solutions to consumer concerns. The features, the most notable of which will hide abusive tweets under a “less relevant replies” drop-down menu option in users’ feeds, center on a theme: isolating abusers.

The golden rules for surviving on an internet that values all types of speech equally are to never read the comments, and never feed the trolls.

Twitter’s approach in the past catered more towards the former, encouraging or rather expecting users who receive threats or other abusive messages to report what they see and try to not to take it personally. The company’s new angle seems to take the second internet survival principle a bit further — to starving trolls — by making sure that users won’t come in contact with abusive content unless they go looking for it. By physically blocking vitriolic comments, Twitter is making it so harassers effectively speak into a void.

Twitter has been working more aggressively to address harassment for the past few years, as the company has released improved reporting and filtering tools and has partnered with women’s advocacy groups. But the company and its harassment problem became a major focal point during the 2016 election cycle as celebrities and media professionals fled the platform, denouncing Twitter’s lack of response to the proliferation of racist, anti-Semitic, and sexist messages linked to white nationalist movements.

But the company’s about-face didn’t come until the company failed to get acquired by investors over its harassment problem following a months-long scandal after actress and comedian Leslie Jones quit Twitter.

Dorsey, who intervened in Jones’ case, has increasingly taken an interest in consumers’ concerns and set out to address them this year. The CEO asked Twitter users in December what they wanted the company to improve or create in 2017 and the top suggestions were an tweet edit button, a bookmark button, and more safety tools.

Based on Tuesday’s announcement, it’s clear what the top priority is.