Twitter tries to tackle trolls

Twitter has announced that they are broadening their definition of violent threats to include ‘promoting violence against others.’ They are also giving their enforcement team the power to lock accounts, force trolls to provide their phone numbers and remove posts before they can be reinstated. Finally, Twitter is looking into testing anti-troll algorithms that could identify mass-trolling attacks and perhaps even predict which users are likely to troll others in the future.

Trolling, cyber-bullying, misogynistic-, homophobic, religious- and racist attacks and the promotion of terrorism have become hot-button topics in social media circles recently and Twitter has become one of the most popular venues for venting rage and indignation and, yes, promoting hate.

According to a leaked memo from Twitter CEO Dick Costolo “We suck at dealing with abuse and trolls on the platform and we’ve sucked at it for years. It’s no secret and the rest of the world talks about it every day. We lose core user after core user by not addressing simple trolling issues that they face every day.”

Twitter is in kind of an awkward situation here. On the one hand they are big proponents of free speech but when hurtful and hateful trollstorms begin to get public attention they face criticism for not doing enough to curtail it. They are being forced into the position of censoring their users. The public is almost demanding censorship.

Trolling has been around forever it’s just easier, faster and has a broader impact than it used to.

I imagine during the very first tribal meeting there was someone at the back of the cave muttering ‘this is a bunch of crap! Ogg is an idiot and doesn’t know what he’s talking about!’ And there have always been people like that at the back of every town meeting, public gathering, published newspaper article, radio broadcast or television show.

It’s in our nature to form opinions on any idea presented to us – critical or supportive. These days it only takes a few moments to tap out a dissenting opinion, objection or outright attack against something we disagree with and those words ripple through the crowd, out the cave entrance and echo out into the world beyond in a fraction of second.

I don’t like personal attacks or promoting hate but when I read comments on stories that most people would categorize as trolling I can almost always see the reasoning (or simple anger) behind the posts. People have opinions about everything.

I think it’s a bit like watching a sporting event and getting angry about a play or a referee’s call and shouting out ‘You’re an idiot! Kill the ump!’ or whatever (and keep in mind there are a million other people out there who have the exact opposite feelings) only now, with social media, our screaming at the TV can be heard around the world.

But there are also cases where trolling is little more than someone drawing pornographic graffiti on a bathroom wall.

Guy Wright

Guy Wright has been covering the technology space since the days when computers had cranks and networks were steam powered. He has been a writer and editor for more years then he cares to admit.


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