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Twitter takes new steps to curb abuse, hate speech

File photo the logo of the social network Twitter displayed on a computer screen.

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Twitter has broadened its campaign against hate speech and abuse.

The company said Tuesday that it has begun identifying people who have been banned for abusive behavior and it will stop them from creating new accounts. In July, the company banned conservative provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos, an editor of the right-wing site Breitbart News, for “participating in or inciting targeted abuse of individuals.” In November, it suspended a number of other accounts linked to “alt-right” or white nationalist activists, citing policies that forbid violent threats, hate speech or harassment.

But the company had been under fire for failing, for nearly a decade since its founding, to address hate and abuse on the site. Balancing its reputation as a free speech haven has at times come into conflict with efforts to protect users. In an internal memo in 2015, Twitter CEO Dick Costolo told employees, “We suck at dealing with abuse and trolls on the platform and we’ve sucked at it for years.” 

The company has taken a number of steps since then to improve the way it responds to the problem, for example updating its rules against threats and abuse last year and suspending thousands of accounts suspected of links to terror.

In additional steps announced Tuesday, Twitter also said that it is creating a “safe search” feature that removes tweets with potentially sensitive content and tweets from blocked and muted accounts from search results. The tweets will still exist on Twitter if people look for them, but won’t appear in general search results.

Twitter is also singling out and collapsing potentially abusive and “low-quality” replies so only the most relevant conversations surface. These replies will also be accessible to those who seek them out, but Twitter is making them less visible. 

Twitter says the changes will be implemented in the coming weeks.

On its blog, the company shared this illustration of how the new filtering feature will work:

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