Twitter wants you to spread love, not hate. And as a result, the company gave a status update this week, on their plans to target online harassment, which, according to Twitter, appears to be working. The platform has made “meaningful progress” in moving towards its goal of cutting down abuse on the platform. More specifically, abusive accounts are getting suspended at a higher rate than this time last year, and abusive tweets are being automatically flagged for the first time. In addition, repeat offenders are being blocked from opening new accounts. Twitter is claiming that these new tools can proactively flag problematic content to the tune of 38% of abusive tweets. What we don’t know is how many abusive tweets there were in total, or whether this number increased from last year.
“This time last year, zero percent of potentially abusive content was flagged to our teams for review proactively. Today, by using technology, 38 percent of abusive content that’s enforced is surfaced proactively for human review instead of relying on reports from people using Twitter. This encompasses a number of policies, such as abusive behavior, hateful conduct, encouraging self-harm and threats, including those that may be violent.”Donald Hicks, Twitter Vice President
With a growing amount of hate speech being broadcast over the internet, is this the right thing for Twitter to do? Is it enough? What other measures can be taken that would help curb abusive tweets and hate speech?
This is the first attempt by Twitter to automatically flag tweets, rather than just rely on user reports, and they have acknowledged that the technology they are using is in its early stages. Which means, they have some bugs to work out. But this is the same technology that they are using to target spam, platform manipulation, and other rule-breaking activity, so it makes sense that they’re using it for abuse as well.
Twitter has also caught onto to the popular tactic of opening up a new account, after a person’s original account was suspended. The company reported that a total of 100,000 users were suspended between January and March 2019 after creating a new account, a 45 percent increase from the same period last year. Twitter also appears to be responding to abusive accounts faster. Three times more abusive accounts were suspended within 24 hours this year than the same period in 2018, the platform reported.
The problem is that we still don’t know how much there is left to tackle. More aggressive enforcement and reporting tools are meaningless if we don’t have an idea of how many trolls are slipping through the cracks. It’s easy to spout out percentages, but if the number of trolls getting away with abuse is higher than the number of trolls getting caught, the system isn’t working. That’s not to say that we shouldn’t applaud their effort – we absolutely should. But we also need to recognize that it may not be quite that simple and further work might be necessary.
To put it in a more blunt manner – we need to see the numbers Twitter in order to determine if you’re doing a good enough job or not. We hold companies like Facebook to this level of accountability, so to want more information from Twitter isn’t completely out of the question.