Twitter will do more to tackle harassment and abuse on its network, the company has said, as it announces a new safety council made up of specialist charities and a slate of new anti-harassment features that will roll out through 2016.
Twitter UK’s head of policy, Nick Pickles, said that the global council would include the mental health charity the Samaritans, the advice charity the Safer Internet Centre, and the Internet Watch Foundation, a specialist organisation that deals with criminal content including child abuse material.
“I don’t think we will have all the answers, but it is important to seek expertise in these still very young issues,” he said. “We want to make sure we hear different views and think about these challenges in the fullest and most nuanced way.”
Pickles said there wouldn’t be one particular safety project but “regular and consistent action” through the year. “This comes from the top of the company – safety is never finished.”
Twitter has been heavily criticised for failing to provide adequate and responsive protections for users who have been the subject of extreme abuse or threats. Laws in the UK offer users some protection against more extreme harassment and several people have been jailed, yet most countries, including the US, have no such protections.
Twitter, which sees an average 500m individual tweets every day, has struggled to strike a balance between allowing free speech and protecting users from abusive comments. Former CEO Dick Costolo told staff in 2015 that Twitter needed to do more. “We suck at dealing with abuse and trolls on the platform and we’ve sucked at it for years,” he wrote in an internal memo.
“Safety and freedom of speech go hand in hand,” Pickles said. “The unique thing about Twitter as a public platform is that what I have to say can be seen by anyone anywhere in the world, and it has the power to challenge views. Twitter’s sum is greater than its parts.”
Pickles said Twitter’s users had to have the confidence to speak out on subjects that mattered to them without the threat of being “silenced by the mob”, and said this is an “everyday discussion” among staff.
While the issue of abusive and aggressive messages has been an important one for Twitter, the company is also facing its own torrent of abusive messages from users angry at proposed changes to the service, including allowing tweets of up to 10,000 characters from the current limit of 140, and changing the order of messages in the timeline.
In the latest round of complaints – tagged #RIPTwitter and trending on the site for at least a day – some users rounded on one low-profile Twitter employee who expressed shock at being targeted with negative messages about the changes.
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