As Twitter faces a crescendo of complaints that its platform has become a refuge for hate-spewing-violence-threatening-female-harassing trolls, the company today announced a plan to create a committee to talk about the problem.
The newly formed “Trust and Safety Council” is composed of representatives from “40 organizations and experts from 13 regions” among whose ranks are safety advocates, academics, grassroots organizations, and community groups that help prevent “abuse, harassment, and bullying,” as well as promoting “mental health and suicide prevention.”
The goal: Help Twitter strike a better balance between its lofty free speech ideals and the growing wave of abusive behavior that threatens its reputation.
“The volume of content on Twitter is massive, which makes it extraordinarily complex to strike the right balance between fighting abuse and speaking truth to power,” wrote Patricia Cartes, Twitter’s head of global policy outreach in a blog post. “It requires a multi-layered approach where each of our 320 million users has a part to play, as do the community of experts working for safety and free expression.”
In a very general sense, Twitter says this group will help “us tap into the expertise and input of organizations at the intersection of these issues more efficiently and quickly.” The group’s new webpage also includes instructions on how to report abusive behavior to Twitter, and if necessary, the police.
The new council is the latest initiative under CEO Jack Dorsey to address some festering issues related to Twitter’s product and business. In particular, threatening language (and the concern around it) has been drawing unwanted attention to a service that needs to sell itself as a safe, effective haven for advertisers.
Most notably, the Gamergate community used the Twitter platform to launch campaigns of harassment against women programmers in the gaming community. Notable celebrities such as Lena Dunham temporarily stopped using Twitter, complaining of abuse.
“I don’t look at Twitter anymore. I tweet, but I do it through someone else,” she told Kara Swisher on the Re/code Decode podcast. “I really appreciate that anybody follows me at all, and so I didn’t want to cut off my relationship to it completely, but it really, truly wasn’t a safe space for me.”
Women, Action & Media even started a Twitter Reporting Project to study the problem on Twitter and propose remedies. Twitter cooperated with the project, which ran through the end of 2014. But apparently, it wasn’t enough.
Hopefully, this effort, with a broader range of groups involved, will have a bigger impact. As the company struggles to attract and retain users, it can’t afford to take many more hits to its reputation.