As promised, Twitter has revealed new features to further defend you against online harassment and abuse. Rolling out in “the coming days”, the service’s 317 million monthly active users will be able to utilize a “mute” feature on their notifications, preventing tweets from being displayed based on specific keywords, phrases, and entire conversations. The company is also beefing up its reporting and enforcement capabilities, enabling a more direct way for users to report hateful conduct and retraining its support teams on its policies.
While these features are a commendable step, it’s not going to magically eliminate the malicious conduct that has become rampant on Twitter, and the company knows this. “We don’t expect these announcements to suddenly remove abusive conduct from Twitter. No single action by us would do that. Instead we commit to rapidly improving Twitter based on everything we observe and learn,” it said in a blog post.
Twitter had a mute option since 2014 that let you silence specific users who annoyed you for any reason. However, that was predicated on knowing the account — what happens if harassment is based around a specific topic or keyword? Twitter is expanding the option to focus on words, hashtags, and entire conversations. It doesn’t matter whether keywords are in all caps or not; just enter the term in once and related tweets will be muted. What’s more, if you mute a keyword, the associated hashtag is also affected, which further prevents abusers from finding a loophole.
To activate this advanced mute capability, go into your settings option on either iOS, Android, or on Twitter.com, select the notifications tab or screen, and tap on “Muted words” or “Mute specific words from your Notifications.” Follow the instructions there and you’re set.
Should there be an instance where you’re being harassed around a specific conversation, you can choose to mute it within the tweet detail menu. However, Twitter cautions that while you won’t receive any new notifications about the conversations, you will still see the tweets in your timeline and when you click into the original tweet.
Whether this moves the needle forward on Twitter becoming a safer place remains to be seen. It’s a much needed step, especially in light of the increased vitriol that exists on the service. There’s so much hate and abuse on there that it has diminished any interest from potential buyers. With the dawn of a new presidency in the United States, there’s no sign of such language being eliminated voluntarily. So the company, while still protecting free speech and the exchange of knowledge, ideas, and conversation, must ensure the proper protection of its users to have a safe place to interact — something it hasn’t done a good job of so far.
It’s certainly a followup to something chief executive Jack Dorsey said during one of Twitter’s quarterly earnings call: “We’re a place for news and social commentary. At its best, the platform allows people to reach across the divide … we recognize it’s a high hope to elevate civil discourse. I emphasize ‘civil discourse.’ Abuse is not part of civil discourse. It shuts down conversation and prevents us from understanding one another. No one deserves to be a target of abuse online, and it doesn’t have a place on Twitter.”
Having better user controls is great, but what about tackling things behind the scenes? Now that you’ve muted a conversation, what is Twitter actually going to do to stem the rise of hateful actors? The company said that it has retrained its entire support team on its policies, “including special sessions on cultural and historical contextualization of hateful conduct, and implemented an ongoing refresher program.” It has also improved its internal tools and systems to be more effective when dealing with such reported conduct. “Our goal is a faster and more transparent process,” Twitter claims.
It better be, because we’re in for one heck of a ride, and the service has made a big promise to its users.