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Twitter announces first potentially effective measures to prevent abuse

Twitter is cracking down after the election

Social Media Site Twitter Debuts On The New York Stock Exchange Bethany Clarke/Getty Images

Twitter revealed three new measures to make its platform safer for users, chief among them preventing abusive account users from making a new account and marking the first potentially effective step in curbing harassment.

Twitter announced the news on its blog this morning, and listed the three new measures the company was going to implement soon. The first two are fairly anodyne and focused both on giving users more control over what they see on Twitter, and proactively removing things most users aren’t likely to care for. In both cases, that content isn’t being removed should someone want to seek it out, but rather the platform is finally focusing on creating an experience that’s concerned with its own users. People will be able to use a “safe search” to remove certain words or hashtags from searches (as well as finally removing blocked and muted accounts from search results!) and hide potentially abusive or “low quality” replies from reply threads.

The third new feature could cut off malicious users who create multiple accounts for the purpose of abuse or harassment. According to Twitter’s blog, users who have been given abuse or harassment warnings in the past — or have had accounts banned — will be unable to create new accounts who have been linked to past offenses. It’s unclear how Twitter will do this, but Polygon has reached out for comment and will update when more information becomes available.

“We’re taking steps to identify people who have been permanently suspended and stop them from creating new accounts,” the post reads. “This focuses more effectively on some of the most prevalent and damaging forms of behavior, particularly accounts that are created only to abuse and harass others.”

People have been asking Twitter to implement better techniques of dealing with abusive users almost since the platform was first created in 2006, but the company first came under heavy criticism in August 2014 when multiple women, including video game critic Anita Sarkeesian and developers Zoe Quinn and Brianna Wu, were harassed by a loose-knit coalition of conspiracy theorists and misogynists rallying behind the #GamerGate hashtag. All three women were sent threatening messages and the company did little despite the publicity and widespread opprobrium that harassment attracted.

Last year, Leslie Jones was targeted by users on Twitter after Milo Yiannopoulos, one-time GamerGate opportunist, Breitbart columnist and a leading figure in the alt-right community — another loose-knit coalition of conspiracy theorists, misogynists as well as racists, anti-Semites and xenophobes — wrote a racist, hate-filled article calling Jones “unappealing” with “flat-as-a-pancake black stylings.” Yiannopolous’ review of the movie encouraged more than 250,000 of his Twitter followers to harass Jones. A few days later, her website was hacked and nude photos were posted. The combination of the two events led to Jones leaving Twitter altogether.

The move led to dozens of articles and opinion pieces on Twitter’s lack of intervention. Before Jones made the decision to leave, she tweeted about the company’s lack of guidelines for handling user conduct — especially when it turns into harassment — leading to Twitter’s CEO, Jack Dorsey, reaching out to Jones directly.

Six days later, Dorsey spoke about the issue to investors while on an earnings call. Dorsey said the time it took for Twitter to respond to harassment was unacceptable.

“No one deserves to be the target of abuse on Twitter,” Dorsey said, according to Variety. “We haven’t been good enough at ensuring that’s the case, and we need to do better.”

Shortly after Dorsey and Jones’ conversation, Yiannopoulos was banned from Twitter. It was one of the first times that Twitter had taken action against Yiannopoulos for his hateful comments.

In the past year, Twitter has once again come under criticism following the rise of the alt-right. The group came into prominence after President Trump announced his bid for president and began campaigning.

On Nov. 16, Twitter began banning the accounts of notable white nationalists who aligned themselves with the alt-right, including neo-Nazi Richard Spencer, just hours after announcing an updated set of safety measurements meant to crack down on abusive behavior on Twitter. Despite the ban, however, Spencer returned to Twitter a month later. According to an email from Twitter to Spencer, which was obtained by BuzzFeed, Spencer was banned for using having multiple accounts for the same purpose, not for abusive behavior.

“Please select one account for restoration; the others will remain suspended,” the email read.

Twitter’s most recent update seems to be the company’s response to the ongoing problem of social media abuse. On Dec. 29, Dorsey took to Twitter to answer user questions and concerns about the service. When he asked what people wanted to see Twitter improve, most asked for stronger safety measures to curtail abuse.

Twitter has confirmed that the product changes will roll out in the “days and weeks ahead.”

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