If you’ve been following the world of Twitter (cue chorus of people who insist they’d never ever use stupid ol’ Twitter), you know that there’s been one of those epic corporate missteps: The CEO of Twitter, Dick Costolo, volunteered to answer questions sent to…a hashtag on Twitter, #askcostolo. What followed was amusingly voluminous, as the angry horde of Twitter users rose up as one to flood the hashtag with their anger at the incompetence of the company in providing tools to deal with abusers. As currently configured, Twitter makes it easy to sign up willy-nilly for anonymous accounts and for users to make racist and misogynistic threats without fear of punishment, or to create accounts solely for the purpose of stalking people online…and there are thousands of Dennis Markuzes out there, fulminating obsessively and hiding behind a flurry of throw-away accounts, all happily enabled by the mostly male engineers at Twitter.
And that’s the real problem, that Twitter won’t even take the basic steps of making it possible for users to block repeated harassers. It’s not clear why; it is clear that they don’t seem to think rape threats are actionable issues.
Anyway, one person made some simple suggestions for the least Twitter could do.
Block all users whose accounts are less than 30 days old
This is easy—it takes an arrow out of the quiver of serial harassers who use alternate accounts generated as needed.
Block all users whose follow counts are less than whatever threshold users set
Google used the social proof of “back links” to establish credibility and ranking for content over 16 years ago. This is old hat by now. Users should be able to block anyone who can’t convince other people to follow them.
Rings of followers created just to subvert this will have to be detected.
Again, hire a Google engineer. They’ve cracked this one.
Block new users whose @replies include any words the user decides
Users who are on the receiving end of harassment face startlingly unimaginative adversaries. The same slurs and threats are used over and over. Brand new account with no followers using the n-word? Block!
That’s stupidly easy to express algorithmically.
Block any user who has been blocked by more than N people I’m following
Let’s also share the load. If all your friends block someone there’s a decent chance you’ll want to also.
Auto-blocks are opaque
There should be no feedback when a behavior triggers these measures. The harasser should believe that everything is working as normal.
The first two suggestions are a bit problematic in that there are easy ways to get around them: the obsessed stalkers will just build up a small population of sock puppet accounts that will also link merrily to each other. It’s a bit of work and requires long term planning, but really…that’s what these loons do. They also put up barriers to brand new users.
But the others…wow. Do you realize that Twitter lacks even the most basic functionality of enabling keyword filters? We’re talking 1990s technology here, and the brilliant minds at Twitter corporate are unable to grasp the concept. They also violate basic security concerns: if you are being harassed, and you block an account, the owner knows right away to switch to one of his backup sock puppets.
One example: If you follow @AngryBlackLady, who writes about reproductive justice and racism, you know that she has been harrassed nonstop for two years by a goon who makes new twitter accounts just about every day, specifically to dun her with racist slurs and misogynistic noise:
— Imani ABL (@AngryBlackLady) August 3, 2014
This is basic. This is easy. Any idiot could provide functionality that would reduce this problem. Twitter, apparently, only employs exceptional idiots.