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Twitter Has a New “Trust & Safety Council,” Including Organizations like Feminist Frequency, GLAAD, & More

Patricia Cartes, Twitter’s head of global policy, just wished us all a Happy Safer Internet Day by announcing Twitter’s brand new Trust & Safety Council. The full announcement on Twitter’s blog describes the council as “a new and foundational part of our strategy to ensure that people feel safe expressing themselves on Twitter.”

Just yesterday, when I first heard about Safer Internet Day (thanks to Monica Lewinsky’s anti-cyberbullying awareness campaign), I pointed out that perhaps social media networks should consider some long-term institutional changes in honor of the holiday. I didn’t think that would actually happen, so this is me admitting that perhaps I shouldn’t be so cynical (ha ha ha). After all, Twitter’s own @Policy account wishes us all a Safer Internet Day right there in the tweet announcement about their new council!

So who’s on the council? An impressive list of advocacy groups! The full list of 50 “inaugural members” includes well-known organizations like Feminist Frequency, GLAAD, Hollaback, and the National Domestic Violence Hotline, just to name a few. (I counted 50 in the blog post at the time of this writing; the post itself says “more than 40,” which suggests that the number may not be final.)

Developing tools to combat the propagation of abuse on Twitter sounds like a difficult problem, and the blog post makes no effort to downplay the challenges involved:

The volume of content on Twitter is massive, which makes it extraordinarily complex to strike the right balance between fighting abuse and speaking truth to power. It requires a multi-layered approach…

As we develop products, policies, and programs, our Trust & Safety Council will help us tap into the expertise and input of organizations at the intersection of these issues more efficiently and quickly.

The announcement certainly makes it sound as though Twitter plans to put more resources (read: money and jobs) into developing more effective anti-harassment tools. It also sounds like they’ll be seeking advice about the development of said tools from some valuable sources. On the other hand, the formation of a council like this also serves as an excellent PR strategy. (Uh-oh, I’m getting cynical again.)

How many tools will Twitter actually develop based on the advice of the council? I sure hope they make some big changes, but given the high turnover of upper management at Twitter, it’s hard to feel entirely confident about their goings-on. The company’s other recent rumored changes — such as doing away with the character-count limit on tweets or changing up the order of Twitter timelines — seem to suggest that the company’s floundering. Both of those planned changes got walked back after users reacted with irritation and horror, but the fact that either idea got suggested in the first place seems to indicate that Twitter HQ has had a lot of weird conversations lately.

The biggest problem with Twitter was never tweet length or timeline order; on the contrary, those aspects of Twitter help to define it as a unique place. The biggest problem was always that the more popular Twitter users get, the more likely it is that they’ll get harassed and decide to leave the service. Super-popular users need to be the ones who have the best time on social media, not the worst time. If any developer can figure out how to solve that problem, they could end up making the best social media network of all time (of all time)!

It’s cool to see Twitter taking a step in the right direction on this issue. It’s one thing to found a qualified advisory board, and another thing entirely to actually listen to them. Here’s hoping they take that next step by listening to the recommendations of their new council, then building some new tools that help make their site more useable and accessible for everyone.

(via Engadget)

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Maddy Myers, journalist and arts critic, has written for the Boston Phoenix, Paste Magazine, MIT Technology Review, and tons more. She is a host on a videogame podcast called Isometric (relay.fm/isometric), and she plays the keytar in a band called the Robot Knights (robotknights.com).