Twitter Launches Collaborative Study in Hope of Tackling Abuse by Eliminating Ignorance


Online abuse has long plagued the Twitter platform, and given the very nature of such networks it is a difficult beast to eliminate. Twitter however continue to try, recently announcing their latest effort which will see them partnering with a research team led by Susan Benesch, Faculty Associate of the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University, and J. Nathan Matias, a postdoctoral research associate at Princeton University, in a new collaborative study which intends to battle the issue not with force or punishment, but with transparency and education.

In a Medium post explaining the initiative, Benesch wrote, “Today Twitter will begin testing such an idea: that showing an internet platform’s rules to users will improve behavior on that platform. Social norms, which are people’s beliefs about what institutions and other people consider acceptable behavior, powerfully influence what people do and don’t do. Research has shown that when institutions publish rules clearly, people are more likely to follow them. We also have early evidence from Nathan’s research with Reddit communities that making policies visible can improve online behavior. In an experiment starting today, Twitter is publicizing its rules, to test whether this improves civility.”

The study will maintain full independence from Twitter in order to ensure the integrity of the research and its results. Privacy is also an obvious concern, one which the researchers addressed by assuring users that Twitter will only provide them with anonymised, aggregated information; the lack of identifying information will make singling out any individual impossible.

Whether or not the study will have any form of long-lasting effect on the rampant trolling and abuse that continues to blight Twitter remains to be seen, but it is at least good to see the company continuing the fight. Social networks should be platforms for the free exchange of ideas, not the unpleasant environments they all-too-often become for all-too-many users.

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