Abuse on Twitter: Eyeing new anti-abuse tools to give users more control over mentions in 2021

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Abuse on Twitter

Twitter is looking at adding new features that could help users who are facing abusive situations on its platform as a result of unwanted attention pile-ons, such as when a tweet goes viral for a reason they didn’t expect and a full firehose of counter tweets get blasted their way.

Racist abuse on Twitter also remains a major problem on platform.

The social media giant says it’s toying with providing users with more controls over the @mention feature to help people “control unwanted attention” as privacy engineer, Dominic Camozzi, puts it.

The issue is that Twitter’s notification system will alert a user when they’ve been directly tagged in a tweet — drawing their attention to the contents. That’s great if the tweet is nice or interesting. But if the contents is abusive it’s a shortcut to scale hateful cyberbullying.

Twitter is badged these latest anti-abuse ideas as “early concepts” — and encouraging users to submit feedback as it considers what changes it might make.

Potential features it’s considering include letting users ‘unmention’ themselves — i.e. remove their name from another’s tweet so they’re no longer tagged in it (and any ongoing chatter around it won’t keep appearing in their mentions feed).

It’s also considering making an unmention action more powerful in instances where an account that a user doesn’t follow mentions them — by providing a special notification to “highlight potential unwanted situations”.

If the user then goes ahead and unmentions themselves Twitter envisages removing the ability of the tweet-composer to tag them again in future — which looks like it could be a strong tool against strangers who abuse @mentions.

Twitter is also considering adding settings that would let users restrict certain accounts from mentioning them entirely. Which sounds like it would have come in pretty handy when president Trump was on the platform (assuming the setting could be deployed against public figures).

While public figures who use social media may be more likely to face higher levels of abusive online trolling than other types of users, it’s a problem that isn’t limited to users with a public profile. Racist abuse on Twitter, for example, remains a general problem on Twitter. And the examples of celebrity users quitting over abuse that are visible via Google are certainly just the tip of the iceberg.

It goes without saying that it’s terrible for Twitter’s business if highly engaged users feel forced to abandon the service in despair.

The company knows it has a problem. As far back as 2018 it said it was looking for ways to improve “conversational health” on its platform — as well as, more recently, expanding its policies and enforcement around hateful and abusive tweets.

It has also added some strategic friction to try to nudge users to be more thoughtful and take some of the heat out of outrage cycles — such as encouraging users to read an article before directly retweeting it.

Perhaps most notably it has banned some high profile abusers of its service — including, at long last, president troll Trump himself earlier this year.

A number of other notorious trolls have also been booted over the years, although typically only after Twitter had allowed them to carry on coordinating abuse of others via its service, failing to promptly and vigorously enforce its policies against hateful conduct — letting the trolls get away with seeing how far they could push their luck — until the last.

By failing to get a proper handle on abusive use of its platform for so long, Twitter has created a toxic legacy out of its own mismanagement — one that continues to land it unwanted attention from high profile users who might otherwise be key ambassadors for its service.

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