Over the next few days, Twitter will add new features intended to help curb abuse on the platform. Users will be able filter out certain keywords, phrases, user names, and hashtags in their mentions, Twitter says. You’ll also have the option to mute threads. The company is also revamping its abuse reporting system so that bystanders can report harassment and hate speech directly rather than leaving that option solely to the person on the receiving end.
And it’s about time. From celebrities like Ghostbusters star Leslie Jones and Robin Williams’s daughter Zelda Williams to average folks, users have complained for years that the company fails to protect them from onslaughts of abuse. Harassment has become such a big problem for Twitter that it was reportedly one of the main reasons business software company Salesforce decided not try to acquire the company. You can bet it’s a big part of why no other company has stepped forward with a bid yet either.
One of the biggest problems with Twitter is that up until now, dealing with harassment has been a largely reactive process. You can report abuse, but Twitter offered few tools to avoid seeing harassing tweets in the first place. And in the instance of coordinated harassment campaigns like the one faced by Jones, new accounts constantly spring up to take the place of those that Twitter has blocked.
In August, Twitter added a feature called “quality filter,” which tried to help cut down on harassment and spam by blocking automated tweets and accounts that the company has somehow identified as potentially dubious. But the approach had some problems. If the filter accidentally caught tweets you wanted to see, you couldn’t whitelist them. All you could do was choose to miss those tweets, or turn the quality filter off. The new features announced today will give users more control.
For example, keyword filtering could help those who routinely receive notifications containing gendered or ethnic slurs avoid seeing those tweets entirely. It could also help people who are being targeted by harassers using multiple different accounts. Instead of having to block or mute each account that sends you abuse after the fact, you could preemptively block tweets that contain keywords or hashtags frequently used by harassers.
According to a blog post announcing the new features, Twitter is also retraining its support staff regarding how they handle harassment cases and expanding the number of internal tools for dealing with abuse incidents. All of which sound like good steps—the question is whether even Twitter can really stem an onslaught that has grown to global proportions.