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Twitter’s early promise as a social platform for connecting people the world over quickly turned somewhat sour, with harassment, bullying, and general nastiness becoming commonplace. And that is why earlier this year the company announced a number of measures designed to make Twitter a safer place to hang out, including improvements to the mute and block features, as well as preventing repeat offenders from creating new accounts.
Fast forward six months, and Twitter is today providing a little data to support its belief that its anti-harassment drive has been effective. “While there is still much work to be done, people are experiencing significantly less abuse on Twitter today than they were six months ago,” said Twitter’s general manager for consumer product and engineering, Ed Ho, in a blog post.
According to Ho, Twitter is now “taking action” on 10 times the number of abusive accounts each day, compared to last year, while “thousands more” abusive accounts are having their functionality limited or suspended. This particular stat is ambiguous, as it could mean that there are 10 times the number of abusive accounts to deal with, but we’ll take Twitter at face value here and assume its various systems are 10 times more effective.
“There are repeat offenders who create new accounts after being suspended for violations,” added Ho. “Our new systems, in the last four months alone, have removed twice the number of these types of accounts. Beyond the technology, our teams are continuing to review content daily and improving how we enforce our policies.”
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The timing of Twitter’s announcement is notable too, as it comes just days after an investigation by BuzzFeed found that the social network is still dismissing many legitimate harassment reports, despite the recent measures it has taken to counter such activity. Indeed, BuzzFeed first contacted Twitter with its allegations on July 7, which has given Twitter more than 10 days to add its own spin to the mix.*
Twitter’s reputation as a breeding ground for evil has done its business no favors, with the proliferation of trolls almost certainly preventing signups from new users and deterring existing users from coming back. That said, the company announced nine million new monthly active users (MAUs) during its last quarter, a rise of 6 percent, though there is little to indicate that Twitter’s response to harassment was behind this increase.
Ho is adamant that communications around “problematic tweets” is central to fixing the problem, in particular explaining to those reported for abusive behavior why their account has been restricted for a period. “Accounts that we put into this period of limited functionality generate 25 percent fewer abuse reports, and approximately 65 percent of these accounts are in this state just once,” he said.
Twitter also said that improving user controls, such as offering quality filters, has helped fix some of its harassment issues, with fewer “unwanted interactions” as a result. Ho said that blocks after @mentions from someone a user doesn’t follow are down 40 percent.
Twitter isn’t the only social platform plagued by abuse and harassment. Facebook has been fighting the good fight for years too, a battle that has extended to its other public channels, including Instagram, which recently introduced more comment control and follower removal tools.
* A Twitter spokesperson told VentureBeat that its harassment update report has been in the works for a while, and the timing of its release — and the content — had nothing to do with BuzzFeed’s investigation.
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