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Monday, 24 November 2014 06:31

Twitter Tackles Online Harassment

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Twitter recently announced its partnership with the non-profit advocacy organization Women, Action, and the Media (Wam) in order to fight harassment of women on the Internet. Apparently, the company is concerned that it is happening on an unprecedented scale.

It turned out that a Pew study found 26% of women aged between 18 and 24 having been stalked on the Internet and 25% having been targets of sexual harassment there. Wam introduced a form, through which women could report harassments and threats that would then be “escalated” to Twitter.
Wam said that women are harassed in many ways, and Twitter’s current reporting system fails to catch all of them. The outfit is planning to cast a wider net to receive reports of harassment against women of color and from the LGBT community. Its form requires to provide answers to a more detailed set of questions than Twitter’s, for example whether they fear for personal safety and how many times they reported to Twitter.

The system also allows a victim to list a number of harassing accounts at a time. Wam is able to “escalate” the received complaints to Twitter as soon as possible. The outfit explained that while one reported tweet may not constitute harassment, in combination with other harassment, there can be a bigger story.

Wam also explained that the form in question has another purpose: collecting information about how harassers behave on the Internet, trying to help Twitter better understand them and make more efficient moves to stop them.

In the meantime, the responsibility of dealing with complaints like those is still entirely in Twitter’s hands. Nevertheless, the involvement of other organizations in the process raises the question of why the microblog doesn’t just host its own improved form.

Now some feminists worry about what will change after Twitter’s involvement with Wam. They claim that it must be more than a simple plan to appease women speaking up about harassment in the short term. They explain that online threats are real, and if the harassers knew there would be consequences, they might make different decisions. At the moment, reporting Twitter harassment appears useless and blocking a user would just put a bigger target on woman’s back.

Some of the outfit’s representatives admitted they wanted to see serious changes made to Twitter itself, for example making rape threats an explicit violation of its terms and conditions. They are looking forward to Twitter trying to make sure that a single, tenacious harasser couldn’t create another account to get around suspension.

For Twitter, the problem seems serious, because the cases of harassment can even drive people to quit. And if the goal of the company is to reach everyone in the world, Twitter is going to need to figure out a way to protect 55% of the Earth population from abuse by the other half.

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