Twitter's Approach to Harassment Reports is Still Letting People Down

The Pool
Twitter have done a great deal to try and make their platform a safer space. Repeated updates, added features and improved blocking/reporting systems have been brought in again and again, but every few months, a fresh wave of media backlash breaches and it feels like little to no progress has been made. One of the most consistent complaints against Twitter in this regard is that a lot of reports get ignored, and unfortunately it looks like that has yet to improve.

Worse still, many completely legitimate reports are being dismissed with the all too familiar automated response stating that the reported user has done nothing to violate Twitter's terms of service. A recent article by BuzzFeed revealed the plight of a user named Maggie H., during which a particular abusive user implied that they knew where she lived, and then posted an image of her with a target superimposed over it. Twitter suspended the account and removed the image, but only after BuzzFeed reached out to them for comment.

This isn't callousness on Twitter's part, it comes back to one simple, oft-repeated adage - algorithms cannot do this kind of work. It's an issue which both Facebook and Twitter have been called out for, and despite all the countermeasures Twitter have brought in to make life more difficult for abusers, their terms of service will always be easy to sidestep for as long as they are being enforced by an automated system, a system with no concept of a 'grey area'.

The rule of thumb seems to be that any time a threatening tweet fails to make it past the reporting stage, and some journalistic platform or another takes the issue up with Twitter directly, then in goes away. This suggests two things - firstly that Twitter are more likely to take abuse reports seriously under the threat of negative press, and secondly that a lot of abusive content would get taken down if a living, breathing human had ever clapped eyes on it.

Studies have shown that many of Twitter's terms of service are clearly violated in tweets and messages on a regular basis, but they either aren't reported or the security system doesn't recognise them as infractions. In one particular case noted by BuzzFeed, a writer reported an account which had only tweeted 78 times, every single one a direct attack against her. Many of these tweets violated the hateful conduct policy, yet the complaint was dismissed.

Twitter are regularly called out and forced to apologise for incidents like this, but they keep occurring. On the one hand, Twitter couldn't possibly hire enough personnel to deal with every report case-by-case, but on the other some would argue it's better to make the system more strict, risking complaints about freedom of speech being muzzled, than to continue ignoring people who are being threatened. The system needs an overhaul, plain and simple.

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