In a new blog post on Tuesday, Twitter committed to continue dealing with problems that have long plagued the website: spam and harassment.
Since the 2016 election, malicious bot and troll accounts have hounded users across Twitter with fake news and abusive comments. In an effort to combat this issue, the company announced that new users will be required to confirm either an email address or phone number. The company added that there would be exceptions for legitimate users whose safety would be jeopardized without anonymity.
One interesting step that the company announced is how they’ll deal with metrics related to questionable accounts. For example, if a user created a mass bot network to follow specific users in order to inflate follower count numbers and strengthen said users’ perceived authority, Twitter’s system will detect and remove the corresponding follower count metrics. If those questionable users are indeed legit, they can pass a challenge, such as confirming a phone number, and full account status will be restored.
In addition to announcing that it will be running audits of existing accounts to ensure current spam bots don’t skate by, Twitter also dropped a small update to how they’re dealing with harassment. The company now has an automated system in place that detects what they consider to be malicious activity, such as large @mentions to the same Twitter user without their reply.
In the announcement, Twitter revealed that the new systems are already in place and revealed some numbers to show how effective it’s been:
In May 2018, our systems identified and challenged more than 9.9 million potentially spammy or automated accounts per week. That’s up from 6.4 million in December 2017, and 3.2 million in September.
Due to technology and process improvements during the past year, we are now removing 214% more accounts for violating our spam policies on a year-on-year basis.
At the same time, the average number of spam reports we received through our reporting flow continued to drop — from an average of approximately 25,000 per day in March, to approximately 17,000 per day in May. We’ve also seen a 10% drop in spam reports from search as a result of our recent changes. These decreases in reports received means people are encountering less spam in their timeline, search, and across the Twitter product.
While it’s encouraging that Twitter is committing to bettering its platform, this news should be met with lots of skepticism.
Twitter has consistently shown that they are inadequately able to deal with the disturbing issues on the platform. And, often times, it’s these very problematic accounts that use Twitter’s systems to their advantage. Just this month Huffington Post reporter Luke O’Brien was harassed, doxxed, and threatened by Twitter users on the website over a story he reported on. These same users were then able to get Luke, the victim of the harassment, suspended from the website by mass reporting his account to Twitter’s automated systems.
In a related incident, Lydia Polgreen, the editor-in-chief of Huffington Post, had her home address and phone number posted to the site for defending her reporter. With doxxing user’s personal information has been a common form of harassment for years on the platform, it’s hard to understand how no automated Twitter system was in place to detect this. The tweet containing Lydia’s personal info remained up for hours.
However, publishing my telephone number and home address on Twitter is absolutely doxing. I spent the weekend fielding calls from people who called me “nigger,” “cunt,” and, most creatively, “nigger-Jew.”
— Lydia Polgreen (@lpolgreen) June 5, 2018
If Twitter is truly committed to making these changes, these are good steps. But these reactive steps to problems need to be tied to proactive measures so that the tactics and trends spammy bot accounts and malicious users take advantage of can’t be instituted in the first place.
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