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Twitter Updates Their Harassment Reporting Tool, Allowing Users to Submit Multiple Tweets For Review

Today, Twitter announced a change to their harassment reporting system; they’ll soon roll out the means for users to link to multiple tweets within the same report. Before now, you could only report individual tweets, which didn’t seem that helpful if a user had sent you several harassing tweets.

There were some ways to get around this problem in the previous system. Personally, I would pick the most egregious tweet of the batch when filing an abuse report, and then select any additional harassing tweets and link to those in the “Description” field of the report. This change therefore seems to me like a relatively minor update to a system that doesn’t address the core problem with filing reports, which is that it places all of the onus upon the user being attacked and introduces more administrative work for them to do.

In my own experiences, outsourcing this labor to a friend helps a lot. As it stands now, Twitter allows users to file abuse reports on behalf of “someone else,” but doesn’t allow you to specify who. Twitter allows for much more detailed reporting only when it comes from the person experiencing the harassment directly. Presumably this is to prevent spamming and false entries from being filed, but as a result, it places onerous pressure on the person being harassed.

When you’re already being harassed, it can be exhausting to fill out these reports. They must be filled out in a timely manner, too, because once you block people, it becomes much harder to go back and find their abusive tweets (plus, they might delete them later, which is a separate problem). According to the current system, you’re expected to be filing away all of the offensive words getting hurled at you so that you can report them, as fast as possible. It becomes a new job that you have to do, and it’s the worst job ever.

It’s a lot easier to report abuse happening to someone else, because although it’s still difficult to read offensive language directed towards a peer or a friend, it feels a lot less personal and horrible when it isn’t directed at you. I do wish Twitter made it easier for more people to report abuse on behalf of others, as opposed to forcing the person experiencing it to submit all of these additional details themselves.

Twitter announced this change in a blog post, as well as via a tweet with a video that I’ve embedded above. The video seems to have a very specific intent, and to me, it feels about as subtle as an anvil. In the short video, which is narrated by a woman’s voice, we start out with a drawing of a white woman on her phone sending a tweet. Next we see a white man with an angry expression and a backpack sending her harassing tweets; there’s no text pictured, but we can see that receiving these tweets causes the woman some distress. Then, we see this woman reporting the user with a big smile on her face. She’s shown handing a piece of paper (as a metaphor for abuse reporting) to a team of four Twitter employees: two women, two men. That’s more diverse than the actual staff of Twitter.

At the very end of the video, a fifth person appears, standing next to the line-up of imagined Twitter staffers. It’s a white male police officer, who tips his hat at the lady and smiles. This is a pretty ironic image, considering that even cis white women have a lot of difficulty getting cyber-abuse cases to get recognized at all by the police in the United States. If you aren’t a cis white woman, it’s all only going to be even more difficult for you, in terms of the abuse you might receive on Twitter and the lack of potential response to it from law enforcement. Also, what is Twitter even implying by including the police in this video? They make no mention in their update about working with law enforcement to better regulate cyber-crime.

Overall, the video paints online abuse as a minor irritation that can be solved with a smile. In reality, it’s a lot more grim than that. You can bet I’m not filing my reports with a smile.

Many people, such as in the tweeted replies to Twitter’s posting of this video, still seem to think that going to the police would actually help, and that abuse reporting isn’t very important. Several users suggest “just block or mute,” with a seeming lack of understanding about the value of booting users who threaten others. The average person just doesn’t know what it would be like to experience sustained, targeted harassment online, and that’s okay. Twitter staffers do know what happens on their service, however, and they’re the ones who are responsible for fixing this problem. I’m not quite ready to give them a victorious fanfare on this small change as yet, especially given the cloying video they’ve put together to accompany the announcement of what amounts to a fairly minor update.

I’m not surprised to see Twitter scrambling, though. Their user growth has stalled out, and they just reported their Q1 earnings today, which don’t reveal any significant change, in spite of the company’s attempts to rebrand as a safer, friendlier place. All of these changes would’ve been great to see two years ago. At this point, I can only hope that other social media companies look at Twitter’s mistakes and prepare to correct for them. It might be too late for Twitter, but hopefully their mistakes will serve as an example for others.

(via Polygon, image via Twitter)

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