Twitter says it is planning to make it easier for users to report abusive and illegal posts. It follows a barrage of threats of rape made against a feminist campaigner.
Caroline Criado-Perez began receiving the messages after successfully leading a campaign to have writer Jane Austen featured on a new edition of a British banknote. At one stage she was receiving as many as 50 abusive messages an hour, several directly threatening to rape her. The messages have now been coming in for five days.
Criado-Perez says she refuses to be deterred from using Twitter and that the advice of “don’t feed the trolls” is both impractical given the scale of the abuse, and inappropriate given its directly violent content. Instead she is trying to publicize the abuse as much as possible, using the hashtag #shoutingback. British police are now monitoring her account and have arrested one man over an alleged involvement in sending the messages. (Under British law at least, a threat of rape is a criminal offence.)
The affair led to a campaign from users looking for a change from Twitter that was as much symbolic as practical: a simple “report abuse” button to click next to abusive messages, rather than merely blocking the user (which allows them to continue making similar posts to other users unchallenged). At the time of writing, a petition had 56,000 signatures.
At the moment, users must find and fill in a form on the Twitter support site to report online abuse, something Criado-Perez says is simply impractical with the level of abuse she has received, telling CNET that “Under the current system it would take me about a week to report the abuse.”
The campaigners hope that making such an engineering change will help focus Twitter’s attention on the distinction between users exercising freedom of expression and users making illegal threats.
Tony Wang, Twitter’s UK General Manager, says the firm is already “testing ways to simplify reporting” through a one-click button on the Twitter iPhone app and the mobile edition of the site. Twitter has since said it is looking at bringing such a button to the main Twitter site.