Twitter is taking steps to combat its ongoing trolling and harassment problem by introducing shared blocklists, the company announced in a blog post on Wednesday evening.
The social network has been referred to as the “world’s water cooler” — a huge public forum for debate across the globe. But there’s a dark side to this popularity, with harassment, abuse, and trolling running rampant on the platform.
The problem is particularly prevalent on Twitter: One study found that 88% of online abuse occurs on Twitter, despite being far smaller than rival social networks like Facebook.
In a leaked memo earlier this year, CEO Dick Costolo told employees he was “ashamed of how poorly” the company has dealt with the issue. He says he takes “PERSONAL responsibility for our failure to deal with this as a company.”
Activists and those targeted by trolls have repeatedly criticised Twitter for its apparent inability to act, and have also previously taken unilateral steps to make the site safer for them. One of these steps was the use of blocklists that users could share amongst one another using external plugins to build a united front against harassing accounts.
Twitter is now adding similar functionality directly to the site. “You can now export and share your block lists with people in your community facing similar issues or import another user’s list into your own account and block multiple accounts all at once, instead of blocking them individually,” user safety engineer Xiaoyun Zhang wrote. “We also hope these advanced blocking tools will prove useful to the developer community to further improve users’ experience.”
In practice this means that it’s possible for an activist to build up a large list of accounts that are harassing or sending unwanted messages. The activist can then easily share this blocklist with their followers — so they can all benefit from its protection too.
Here’s how it looks to export a blocklist:
Twitter also introduced a “quality filter” in March that lets users automatically hide tweets from accounts determined by an algorithm to be “low-quality.” But the feature is only available to verified users, meaning that while it can aid the most high-profile victims of abuse, the vast majority of users on the platform still don’t have access to it.
Ziaoyun Zhang suggests that more changes to Twitter’s platform are coming soon. “We’re also working on additional user controls,” she writes, “and we look forward to sharing more information about those in the near future.”
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