Twitter gets serious about online harassment with new rules and punishments

Twitter is making some serious strides in its fight to end its epidemic of online harassment with some changes to the way it identifies and deals with offenders, according to a Twitter blog post.

This is critical, as CEO Dick Costolo has acknowledged that shutting down online harassment is a major priority for the company if it wants to continue growing.

The first major change is that it’s no longer necessary for a user to engage in specific threats of violence against a person to face sanctions — Twitter’s rules now prohibit “threats of violence against others or promote[ing] violence against others.”

This closes a major loophole that was a favourite of organised hate groups on Twitter, as seen extensively in the ongoing GamerGate fiasco: Some Twitter users were able to incite others to harass or threaten a person, but since they weren’t actually sending any threatening messages themselves, they were safe from any consequences.

“The updated language better describes the range of prohibited content and our intention to act when users step over the line into abuse,” Twitter says in its blog entry.

The other major aspect is in the consequences for online abusers. Now, Twitter is introducing the ability to limit a user’s account for a certain timespan, or until they register a phone number and delete the offending Twitter posts.

Previously, Twitter would only have the power to suspend an account, preventing them from logging in. Very often, this amounted to little more than a slap on the wrist, as users would just make a brand new Twitter account and be on their way. Meanwhile, the offensive posts that got them into trouble in the first place would remain standing.

These time-limited suspensions are a way to make the punishment an annoying inconvenience that makes it easier for a user to delete their terrible posts and get back to their Twitter experience than it is for them to make a new account and start from scratch.

Finally, Twitter is testing “a product feature to help us identify suspected abusive Tweets and limit their reach.” In other words, Twitter may limit who can see a tweet that their algorithm has decided is abusive. This is in early testing, and details and ramifications are forthcoming.

Twitter acknowledges that it needs to devote more resources to reviewing abuse reports and taking more decisive action. But the company also says that it’s equally important to cut harassment off at the source by quickly identifying and shutting down would-be abusers.

“While dedicating more resources toward better responding to abuse reports is necessary and even critical, an equally important priority for us is identifying and limiting the incentives that enable and even encourage some users to engage in abuse,” writes Twitter.

NOW WATCH: Patrick Stewart’s Only Rule For Using Twitter

Business Insider Emails & Alerts

Site highlights each day to your inbox.

Follow Business Insider Australia on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram.