At a time when questions about how to deal with online aggression are being raised to a high volume -- and brought to the highest court -- Twitter is trying to make it easier for victims and witnesses of digital harassment to report it.
The short messaging service is introducing new tools, which will roll out to users over the coming weeks. It's available now for a small group of Twitter's 284 million members. Among other changes, the updates streamline the process for reporting abuse, especially on mobile devices.
"Everything that happens in the world, happens on Twitter -- to the tune of more than 500 million Tweets every day. That can sometimes include content that violates our rules around harassment and abuse and we want to make it easier to report such content. So, we're improving the reporting process to make it much more mobile-friendly, require less initial information, and, overall, make it simpler to flag Tweets and accounts for review," the company said in a statement Tuesday.
The company released a video outlining the new protocol in a tweet, demonstrating how users can submit a report in less than 10 swipes of the thumb. A victim or witness can select from a list of reasons for the report -- "This tweet is annoying," "This tweet is spam," "This user is abusive," etc. -- and then choose the nature of the violation from a drop down menu consisting of impersonation, private information, harassment and self-harm/suicide. From there, another multiple choice: This account is ... being disrespectful or offensive; harassing me; threatening violence or physical harm.
Twitter also said it made "behind-the-scenes improvements" that speed up response times to reported tweets and accounts.
Harassment and bullying on Twitter is not new. Recently, an online campaign dubbed "GamerGate" has led to the harassment of women in the video game industry for criticizing the lack of diversity and how women are portrayed in gaming.
In a conversation with CBS News, CNET.com senior editor Jeff Bakalar called Twitter's new reporting tools "a long time coming."
The procedural change comes while the Supreme Court is hearing its first case about the definition of free speech rights on the Internet.
It is the case of Anthony Elonis, who posted threats to his estranged wife on Facebook and was convicted of a federal law prohibiting such threats and sentenced to nearly four years in prison. Elonis said the threats weren't serious, and his legal team is arguing that the conviction was a violation of his First Amendment rights.
A recent survey by the Pew Research Center found that nearly three-quarters of American adults who use the Internet have witnessed online harassment. Forty percent have experienced it themselves. The types of harassment ranged from name-calling to physical threats, sexual harassment and stalking. Half of those who were harassed said they didn't know the person who had most recently attacked them.
"We are nowhere near being done making changes in this area," wrote Shreyas Doshi, Twitter's director of product management and user safety, in a blog post. "In the coming months, you can expect to see additional user controls, further improvements to reporting and new enforcement procedures for abusive accounts."
That said, it is unlikely that the improvements will put an end to harassment on Twitter. While users can block accounts, and Twitter can delete them, there is nothing stopping bullies from setting up new accounts under different names.
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