Long-time users of the Internet know that anonymity can sometimes bring out the worst in people. When individuals can say anything they want, confident that no one will ever find out who’s behind it, some chose to take advantage by hurling needless threats and abuse. While most of these comments are completely empty, it can make basic online communication a far more hostile experience than it has to be. This fact was reinforced recently when abuse against a group of high-profile women in the UK got so bad it forced Twitter to take immediate action.
If you’re worried about abuse, background check the people who are following you. If you discover that one of your followers has a criminal history, block them right away.
Threats Against Women
After the writer Caroline Criado-Perez succeeded in her campaign to put Jane Austen—the 19th Century novelist who wrote works such as Pride and Prejudice—on the 10 pound note, she was bombarded with dozens of threatening tweets every hour. Despite the high volume of threats, only one person was arrested out of the hundreds of violent threats that were directed towards her.
British journalists have also been targeted in Twitter. Guardian columnist Hadley Freeman received a Tweet last month from someone who claimed to place a bomb outside of her home. Police investigated the threat and advised Freeman not to stay at her home overnight.
Grace Dent, a columnist for The Independent, received the exact same tweet as Freeman and captured a screenshot of it. It read “A BOMB HAS BEEN PLACED OUTSIDE YOUR HOME. IT WILL GO OFF AT EXACTLY 10.47PM ON A TIMER AND TRIGGER DESTROYING EVERYTHING.” Several other female journalists received bomb threats before the threatening account was finally suspended.
The threats insipred some people to create a petition on Change.org for Twitter to add a “Report Abuse” button. It has received over 125,000 signatures so far.
In a blog post on Saturday, Twitter announced that they will add new features to combat abuse. The centerpiece of these efforts for change is a one-click “Report Abuse” button. Before, users had to fill out a form in order to report separate abusive tweets. This new feature will allow people on Twitter to quickly and easily report abuse in just a single click.
Additionally, Twitter has updated its rules in order to clarify what it considers abusive behavior in order to protect users against what it calls “targeted abuse.” According to Del Harvey, senior director of trust and safety for Twitter, “We want people to feel safe on Twitter, and we want the Twitter Rules to send a clear message to anyone who thought that such behaviour was, or could ever be, acceptable.”
Twitter also reported it will add more staff to better handle reports of abuse.
Watch Your Follow List
While these measures should certainly be encouraging to those who want Twitter to be a more secure place, Tweeters shouldn’t have to wait until the company removes all the trolls from their site to feel safer using this social media platform.
Jason Bullworth is a writer from Fallbrook, California. He writes about social media, crime, and the law.