Twitter is punishing abusive users by putting them in time-out

Jack Dorsey
Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey. AP Images

Twitter has a new tactic for curbing abuse and harassment: a time-out.

The company has started temporarily restricting the access of accounts it determines to be abusive, a Twitter spokesperson told Business Insider. Affected accounts will only have their tweets seen by their followers until the ban is lifted.

The spokesperson said that Twitter started temporarily limiting accounts last week, and Heat Street was the first to notice the activity on Wednesday.

Several users who are temporarily restricted by Twitter have tweeted screenshots of messages they have received saying that they had violated the company’s content rules. The messages said their accounts were restricted for 12 hours, but a Twitter spokesperson said the restriction’s duration could be longer or shorter depending on the offender’s behaviour.

Here are some examples — beware that there is graphic language used:

A recently updated part of Twitter’s website explains that the temporary time-outs are intended to create a “safer environment” on the social network:

“Conversations are core to Twitter, but if we detect behaviour that may violate the Twitter Rules or inhibit other people’s ability to express themselves freely, we may temporarily limit certain account features. For example, this could mean only your followers are able see your activity on Twitter, including Tweets, likes, Retweets, etc. Limiting the reach of potentially abusive content creates a safer environment and stronger Twitter community.”

A spokesperson declined to explain how Twitter determines if an account deserves to be temporarily restricted or totally suspended, but did say that the company looks at the overall context of an account’s behaviour rather than just potentially offensive keywords. So if an account repeatedly tweets offensive things to other accounts that don’t follow back, Twitter could interpret that behaviour as abuse and worthy of a time-out.

Twitter has been plagued by high-profile cases of abuse and harassment for years, and that reputation was reportedly part of the reason why Disney backed out of talks to acquire the company last year.

Mounting criticism and slowed business growth led Twitter to recently introduce several other steps to curb abuse, including removing offensive tweets from search results, measures to keep suspended users from creating new accounts, and hiding offensive or harassing “@” replies.

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