Aleen Mean

Twitter Remains Broken

Today Twitter, the microblogging service dedicated to making sure that people can easily be harassed without repercussion, announced some changes they’re planning on rolling out over the next few months. True to their mission, these new features are sure to promote not only harassment, but spamming from both malicious accounts and #brands trying to #engage their audience.

Snark and admitted hostility aside, I love Twitter. I’ve used it every day for almost exactly eight years. I got my last job after hearing about the opening on Twitter. Most of my current, closest friendships exist because of Twitter. I quite literally cannot imagine what my life would be like today if it weren’t for this service.

But it’s broken, especially (but certainly not exclusively) for women who dare to publicly express their opinions. I’m pretty lucky: I’ve never been threatened or otherwise harassed there. In the back of my mind, however, I always wonder when it will happen—when will they threaten to rape me or harm my family members? When will they post my address or call my local police department to lie and dispatch a SWAT team to my home? I never wonder if it will happen. It’s always when.

Twitter is constantly saying that they take abuse seriously, but there seems to be very little movement on actually making things better for users. Right now, it’s up to us to see an abusive tweet, then block and report the offending account.1 After that, it’s up to Twitter to actually do something about it. This takes time, and often reports are simply dismissed. In the event that an account is banned, there’s nothing to prevent a harasser from creating a new account and starting over again. Furthermore, many users report that they see tweets from offensive accounts even after they’ve been blocked, which means that abusive comments can sneak through.

When today’s announced changes go into effect, the characters included in mentions will no longer count toward a tweet’s 140-characters. This is good for up to 50 names. I can think of no reason a Twitter conversation needs 50 people tagged in it. It’s great for the kinds of engagement companies seem to want, less great for the rest of us. It will be easier than ever to gang up on an individual, now that a critic can mention 49 of their closest friends and their target in a single tweet. There’s no mention of any way to untag oneself from these exchanges; this will be disastrous for many people.

Time and time again, we’ve been told that the company is working on making things better for targets of harassment. What we see, however, are half-baked enhancements designed to make the service more appealing to advertisers and attempts at enticing new users. Many people have suggested changes they could implement to curb abuse. For example, Randi Lee Harper’s list of suggestions from earlier this year is still on-point.

I know that Twitter is a huge company and that the people who are spending their time and energy on these new features aren’t necessarily the ones who would work on anti-abuse tools, but it’s clear that the company’s leadership is unwilling to actually act. Until they do, they’ll continue to lose influential users and many of us will refuse to recommend that anyone create a Twitter account.

If you’re curious, other features Twitter announced today include:

  • Photos, quoted tweets, videos, and other attached media will no longer count against your 140-character limit.
  • New tweets that begin with someone’s username will show up to all of your followers instead of just the people who follow you both. This is how things used to work and I was pretty angry when they moved away from this behavior. At the time, I followed around 50 people; now my timeline is going to get cluttered pretty quickly.
  • Replies to existing tweets that begin with someone’s username will only show up in the timelines of people who follow you both.
  • You’ll be able to retweet and quote yourself, which is something I’ve been doing using Tweetbot since forever.
  1. There are no Twitter-provided tools to curb harassment unless you’re a verified user. It seems to be reserved for some members of the media and celebrities. Beyond that, nobody really knows what’s required to become verified, though it seems to require use of the black arts.