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Thursday, May 28, 2020

OPINION: Twitter takes on the Trolls

Illustration by Tyler Hillis
Illustration by Tyler Hillis

Whether it’s keeping up with old friends or schmoozing it up with celebrities who won’t ever tweet you back, Twitter has become a huge player in online communication. But what happens when the little blue bird begins hurling expletives?

Abuse online is nothing new. Behind the screen of anonymity, so-called trolls have plagued Twitter for years. This year however, it seems Twitter’s resolution for 2016 is to handle these users once and for all.

On Dec. 30, 2015, Twitter announced a revamp of their community guidelines that primarily targets abuse and harassment, all in an effort to protect free speech. Of particular note is Twitter’s commitment to cutting out all abusive behavior.

“We do not tolerate behavior that crosses the line into abuse, including behavior that harasses, intimidates, or uses fear to silence another user’s voice,” according to the new rules set out by Twitter.

That last line is key. Maintaining the balance of free speech should always be paramount in dealing with mass communication forums and this recent move is highly commendable.

Being in control of a communication powerhouse demands constant monitoring, screening and reworking. The increase in responsibility for what they have created shows that Twitter truly understands the power of the digital world.

In addition to new abuse rules, Twitter will also begin to reach across the digital divide and offer assistance to those who threaten self-harm. This help includes messaging the account and providing contact information to mental health hotlines.

This type of outreach is seemingly unheard of on social media platforms and is much needed in an era where, even with millions online, you may still feel alone.

As journalists, our jobs rely heavily upon our ability to disseminate information to the general public. Faster and faster, social media is becoming ingrained in those strategies and Twitter is a fine example of a company that is committed to the principles of free speech, while cutting out those who abuse with their words.

Take, for example, a story about a local murder, followed by a tweet updating the situation. A more draconian set of rules might utilize a program to skim for any keywords and pull the tweet based solely on that. Twitter’s new rules maintain our ability to talk about unfortunate events but act to stop those who seek to abuse directly.

The worry with reigning in of speech in any medium is the ‘chilling’ effect, where users may hesitate to use their right to free speech for fear of legal repercussions. Here however, Twitter has taken a sane approach, truly targeting only those who have reason to fear repercussion.

There will always be those who slip through the cracks. It’s the Achilles’ heel of supporting a free speech ethic. However, by taking responsibility for those actions when they occur, we can do much more to curb their effectiveness. Keep fighting the good fight, Twitter. #freespeech.

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