If you need some brightness today — a sense of victory, however small — check this: Twitter just introduced several new safety tools to combat the continuing issue of abuse on their platform and the internet as a whole. It's part of an ongoing effort Twitter has made recently to counter harassment — and the addition of even more tools is something to celebrate. This is definitely one of those times when less is not more. More is more, because harassment online is rampant. Everyone should be free just to be who they are online without getting worrying about getting abused, doxed, or worse because of their identity — and these new tools will hopefully contribute to a world where that is reality.
In a blog post published on Tuesday, VP of Engineering Ed Ho announced that Twitter will be rolling out increased measures to stop the creation of new abusive accounts, bring forward safer search results, and collapse potentially abusive or low-quality Tweets. "We stand for freedom of expression and people being able to see all sides of any topic. That’s put in jeopardy when abuse and harassment stifle and silence those voices," wrote Ho. "We won’t tolerate it and we’re launching new efforts to stop it."
Tweets from blocked or muted accounts will now begin to be filtered out of search results should you choose to enable the "safe search" option, and replies identified as abusive or low-quality will be collapsed. It's important to note that none of the aforementioned content will be deleted; rather, the potential damage it can cause will, hopefully, be diminished.
These tools join last summer's cross-platform launch of a quality filter, which sorts out spam, bots, and people yelling insults at you, as well as the ability to limit notifications to those who follow you. Collectively, this arsenal aims to make Twitter more "user-accessible."
These changes also come after Ho tweeted last week that Twitter did not move quickly or effectively enough to combat "problem users" — like Milo Yiannopoulos, who was finally banned from Twitter last year for harassment and online abuse, particularly towards SNL and Ghostbusters actress Leslie Jones (although not before amassing an "alt-right" army of vitriolic trolls).
In December, Yiannopoulos announced a $250,000 book deal with Simon & Schuster's neo-conservative imprint Threshold; his book, Dangerous, is currently #7 on Amazon's best-seller list.
Meanwhile, writer and activist Lindy West announced in an article for The Guardian last week that she was leaving Twitter for good, stating, "It is unusable for anyone but trolls, robots and dictators." In 2013, West began receiving a deluge of harassment from a Twitter account masquerading as her deceased father; it lasted for two years.
All of this is to say that, really, the words "abuse" and "harassment" don't really begin to cover what people feel free to do to other people online. I feel like no one should have to point out that that's a huge problem, but, well... it's a huge problem. Will Twitter's new tools solve it completely? Of course not — but I mean it when I say that every little bit helps.
There's also something immensely satisfying in knowing that someone can scream at you all they want, but thanks to the beauty of a well-programmed filter, they're just screaming into the void.