Twitter’s biggest problem: They’ve done too little about online abuse

Jack Dorsey took to Twitter to ask for advice, but is it too late?

jack dorsey twitter flight

President-elect Donald Trump has quite a presence on Twitter with over 18 million followers. He tweets, companies scurry under the rug. His supporters flock to retweet what he says, and the trolls who try to mock him are essentially lost in a haze of confusion. Say what you want about his political views, but he’s one of the few “successful” users on Twitter, perhaps even winning the election in 140-characters.

The rest of us out in the digital domain? While Trump has millions of followers, many Twitter users are content with a few hundred or a few thousand. When you tweet, a stalker-type can easily invade your stream and start harassing you all day long. It’s hard not to notice. You can report this, but there’s a void. You can block certain phrases, but the trolls will find workarounds.

In a fairly unprecedented move, the CEO of Twitter, Jack Dorsey, decided to invite users to give their opinions about what Twitter needs to do to improve. He spent about six hours replying to tweets yesterday. Some of the user suggestions are a little underwhelming. Having a way to edit a post might seem novel to the Twitterverse, but it’s been an option on Facebook for years. Twitter is what I would call “too binary” in that they care about things like character limits for users and whether your username should count in that limit. Having a big debate about editing tweets seems like a way to move some of the dirt around in their grave site. The hole is already there.

Twitter doesn’t seem to be aware of online harassment or abuse, or at least has not taken the issue seriously enough. My hope is that the service finds a way to make it clearer who is actually doing the trolling -- being able to find a real name would help, in the same way you have the right to find out who ran into you on the highway.

One user yesterday suggested that any report of online abuse would create a “case” and a Twitter rep would respond quickly to it. Another said there should be more verified accounts, instead of those that are utterly anonymous. Maybe that could work.

One of my biggest issues with Twitter is that the service has lost its relevancy. That has created what is essentially a Dark Twitter, a forum where abuse and intolerance run rampant. It doesn’t take long before you bump into it. If you look at almost any tweet by Jeb Bush, there is a long list of harassing tweets -- calling him stupid over and over again. Maybe you would say he deserves that, or that it’s just trash talk, or people have the right to express their opinions. It’s an open forum, unlike Facebook, in that anyone can comment on anything you say.

My view is that, having verified real names and addresses at least provides some level of accountability. I’m sure Governor Bush mostly ignores these tweets, but some of them cross the line into harassment. At this point, there’s no way to find out anything about JimmyBob101 other than his location is “Earth” and he likely used a throwaway email to register.

If there was more accountability, maybe people would think twice. Hiding behind a Twitter account and trolling around making comments on people you don’t like needs to end. If Twitter thought this was an important issue, they would have certainly done something about it by now.

Copyright © 2016 IDG Communications, Inc.

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