Let’s talk about Twitter.
The social media platform has been around since 2006 and has undergone a lot of changes. The social media industry, as I mentioned in my last blog post, is ever-changing and Twitter is no exception. However, the app has come under fire lately for failing to keep its users safe from online harassment and hate speech (tweets?). Taylor Lorenz, a staff writer at The Atlantic, published a piece this week pointing out that for all of the updates Twitter has introduced recently, none of them are ones that Twitter’s users have asked for.
From what I’ve seen, this has been a common trend within the social media industry. Social media apps like Tumblr or Snapchat have introduced changes that have both outraged users and ignored commonly called-out issues. As Lorenz points out, changes implemented by Twitter’s team have been well-intentioned by hoping to make the app more engaging.Typically, the resulting updates are more about aesthetics rather than improving user experience. Lorenz lists all the most recent changes that the app has undergone:
“Over the past 18 months, Twitter has changed its user avatars from square-shaped to circular, redesigned Moments, added topic tags to the Explore page, spammed users’ timelines with a new “happening now” section, added endless notifications, upped the character limit to 280, promoted live video of sports events, revamped its algorithm to give older tweets more prominence, and announced plans to revoke the third-party API access that many popular apps rely on.”
As you’ll notice, none of those things bolster policies against harassment or abuse. In the aforementioned article, Lorenz cites several Twitter users who have made their disdain for these superficial updates known.
A lot of high-profile people use (or used) Twitter, which has made it easier for the public to see issues with the app’s policies. Actress Millie Bobby Brown, for example, stopped using Twitter after people repeatedly added fake homophobic quotes to her photos. Other celebrities shut down their accounts after similar online attacks. Famous people are more accustomed to receiving feedback from the public – whether it’s compliments or negativity – and yet many celebrities have given up on Twitter or barely use it. This is a sign that the app is not doing enough to protect its users. ‘Regular’ people are generally far less prepared for criticism and can take comments even harder, which has had deadly consequences in some cases.
That’s not to say they don’t have any safeguards in place. Twitter says its working on improving its policies to give users more options when it comes to combating trolls. It has “given more weight” to reports of abuse sent in from witnesses, as opposed to relying on victims to report harassment themselves. Though they sometimes suspend accounts who break Twitter rules, the company seems to make some frustrating exceptions for hate groups or high-profile people.
A horrifying example of the misuse of Twitter can be seen with President Tr*mp, who has spent the last several years using Twitter as a means to be hateful. I’m working under a 800-word limit, so I don’t have room to list out every offensive tweet the President has published, but more than a few of them have contained threats of violence. As is pointed out in this Politico article, President Tr*mp tweets things such as:
“NEVER, EVER THREATEN THE UNITED STATES AGAIN OR YOU WILL SUFFER CONSEQUENCES THE LIKES OF WHICH FEW THROUGHOUT HISTORY HAVE EVER SUFFERED BEFORE.”
Ignoring the fact that this tweet was definitely crafted by a cartoon villain, threats of violence are directly cited as impermissible in Twitter’s official policies, which define threats as “explicit statements of one’s intent to kill or inflict serious physical harm against another person.” According to their ‘zero-tolerance’ policy, your account will be suspended if it contains threats or glorifies violence. I’ll be the first to admit that I’m no expert on free speech or any other laws, so I don’t know what type of limitations they have to function under when it comes to suspending accounts, but it’s pretty clear that the above tweet contains a threat. President Tr*mp’s Twitter account has never been suspended, despite the fact that Twitter representatives have publicly stated that he is not above their policies. When questioned on the issue, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey had this to say:
“We have to balance it with the context that it’s in… So my role is to ask questions and make sure we’re being impartial, and we’re upholding consistently our terms of service, including public interest.”
This response isn’t surprising, but it does demonstrate inconsistencies in Twitter’s policy enforcement. A lot of users have asked for stricter policies, but they aren’t consistent with enforcing the ones already in place. So, should Twitter be doing more to foster a safe digital culture? Yes, I think so. They can start with our President.