Twitter Reports Decline in Abusive Content and Promises New Rules to Combat Bad Actors

April 16, 2019, 10:25 PM UTC

Twitter says that it’s getting better at finding and removing abusive tweets—a problem that has long plagued the social network.

On Tuesday, Twitter said it had suspended three times more abusive users within 24 hours of them being reported, compared to the same time last year. Between January and March, the company suspended 100,000 accounts created by users already on suspension. And Twitter says it’s finding 38% of abusive content proactively, rather than relying on user reports. Last year, the company said, it didn’t try to proactively identify harmful content at all.

Twitter has been working to clean up its service after facing years of criticism for allowing harassment, hate speech, and misinformation. In February, CEO Jack Dorsey said the company was exploring ways to better prevent and remove abusive posts and accounts. But that cleanup has led to Twitter being accused of cherry picking the accounts it punishes and of banning tweets by conservatives without informing the account holders.

Though Dorsey regularly talks of his commitment to managing abuse on the service, Twitter continues to struggle with the issue.

Libby Hemphill, a University of Michigan professor who studies social media, says that the update doesn’t provide enough context as to whether Twitter is actually making a dent in the larger problem, given that the spread of misinformation is on the rise.

“We [should] acknowledge that they are doing something but it remains not enough and not effective at stemming the tide of malicious behavior that happens on Twitter,” she said.

Twitter has allowed posts like a 2016 political ad showing an ISIS beheading to remain on the network. Also in 2016, a Nazi group bought and posted a promoted tweet. Twitter has also been accused of allowing sexually harassing comments to remain online. It also allowed Alex Jones, the publisher of Infowars, to tweet conspiracy theories about the Sandy Hook school shooting and other issues until banning him late last year.

Tuesday’s report comes one year after Dorsey tweeted that he recognized Twitter had not understood its “real-world negative” consequences, and that it it was determined to fix the problem.

The report calls the safety initiatives a “top priority” and states that the company knows “there will always be more to do.” New initiatives announced in the report include making it easier for users to report abuse, improving Twitter’s technology to better spot harmful content, and experimenting with giving users the option to hide replies to their tweets, a feature Twitter will begin testing in June.

In 2018, Dorsey promised frequent updates on the company’s efforts to provide a safer environment for users. Twitter also regularly tweets safety updates via @TwitterSafety.

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