Twitter tries to stem its abuse problem with new reporting tools

For some time, Twitter has been criticized for having an abuse and harassment reporting process that many victims say is too cumbersome and time-consuming to be useful. On Tuesday, the company announced that it is rolling out a new, more streamlined approach that it hopes will solve that problem by allowing users to report harassment with a few clicks in the mobile app, and it says newer features and tools to make the process even better will be coming soon.

As the company explained in a blog post, users can now report abuse using Twitter’s mobile app on both iOS and Android, including details about what kind of harassment they are suffering from — offensive remarks, images, threats of physical violence, etc. — and users can report if they see harassment of others occurring.

Twitter said the reporting process has been changed behind the scenes as well, to make it easier for the company to respond more quickly. According to a report by The Verge, those changes could include expediting a report if more than 100 accounts flag the same user. A New York Times story on the changes said Twitter is also considering making it harder for those who have had an account banned to create new accounts.

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Before the most recent changes, anyone who was suffering from abuse had to fill out a multi-page questionnaire using the web version of Twitter, which many argued was unnecessary and likely kept some victims from reporting their harassment. And in many cases, even those who reported an abuser were never told what kinds of penalties they faced for their behavior. Twitter hasn’t said whether that will change.

Although Twitter abuse, particularly of women, has been an ongoing problem for a number of years, it attracted attention in a major way last year, when British freelance journalist Caroline Criado-Perez was subjected to a stream of unrelenting abuse — including threats of violence — during a discussion about author Jane Austen’s photo appearing on British bank notes.

In the aftermath of the episode, Criado-Perez criticized Twitter’s process for reporting harassment, and said that the company needed to be “on the side of the victims.” Her supporters organized a petition calling for the addition of a “report abuse” button on Twitter, and also promoted a boycott.

At the time, Twitter said better reporting tools would be coming, and in the interim the company has made a number of attempts to show that it is listening, including a response to comedian Robin Williams’ daughter — who suffered abuse following his suicide — saying it was working on new tools. Twitter also started working with the non-profit advocacy group Women, Action and the Media, creating an online form to expedite a claim.


In addition to the reporting of abuse and harassment, Twitter said it has improved its controversial “block” feature: users who are blocked won’t be able to see the profile of the person who blocked them, the company said, and all users will have a page they can go to in order to monitor all the people they have blocked. The company said it would be adding more features to this page soon.

The way that Twitter blocks users has been the source of a lot of criticism over the past year or so: last December, the company tried to change the way that the blocking process is handled and almost immediately came under fire from critics who argued that it was making things easier for harassers, not victims.

Among other things, the changes meant that users being blocked would no longer be notified of the block — something Twitter CEO Dick Costolo argued was a better approach — and they could continue to interact with the user’s tweets and timeline, although they wouldn’t be able to favorite or retweet anything. After an outpouring of criticism, the company quickly rolled back the changes and said it was sorry for any offence caused.