Twitter gets an assist in taking on trolls and bullies

Social network creates trust and safety council

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Credit: Martyn Williams

Twitter is reaching out for help to curb abuse and harassment on its social network.

The company is forming what it's dubbed the Twitter Trust & Safety Council, a group of safety advocates, academics and community groups focused on maintaining open dialogue on Twitter while preventing bullying and abuse.

Taking on harrassment and bullying has been a challenge for Twitter.

Just a year ago, Dick Costolo, who was CEO of Twitter at the time, said the company was struggling to take on harassing and abusive tweets, writing in a memo, "We suck at dealing with abuse and trolls on the platform and we've sucked at it for years."

Now, Twitter is looking for help to tackle the issue.

"To ensure people can continue to express themselves freely and safely on Twitter, we must provide more tools and policies," wrote Patricia Cartes, head of Twitter's Global Policy Outreach. "It requires a multi-layered approach where each of our 320 million users has a part to play, as do the community of experts working for safety and free expression."

Cartes noted that there are more than 40 organizations involved with the council.

The groups involved include NetSafe, GLAAD, the Internet Watch Foundation, the Wahid Institute, the U.K. Safer Internet Centre and Childnet International.

Ezra Gottheil, an analyst with Technology Business Research, said Twitter is smart to pull in outside help to tackle a tough issue like online harassment.

"You might say this kind of thing ruins the neighborhood," he added. "If this is going on, people don't want to go there. And the more powerful the topic, the nastier the trolls. You don't have to use Twitter, so you'll stop if it's more grief than it's worth."

Twitter has struggled to increase revenue and its user base, and stopping harassment on the site could help the company in both areas.

"It certainly drives away potential users, but it's hard to estimate how much," said Gottheil. "I think [Twitter is] concerned about how it affects their brand."

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