Twitter announces new policy changes and tools to help curb hateful tweets

Twitter gets a lot of bad press these days, mostly when some high profile person leaves the service after being subjected to a deluge of hateful tweets.

The good news is the company is finally trying to do something about its issues. In an update yesterday the company announced both policy and technology updates aimed at making Twitter a less hostile space.

First, they've changed their "Violence and Threats" policy to cover a broader range of offenses. Where the rule used to prohibit "direct, specific threats of violence against others" it now says "You may not publish or post threats of violence against others or promote violence against others." This gives the support team more leeway in what they can take action against.

And speaking of action, support has a new tool to use against abusive users. They can now lock their account for a specific amount of time, in addition to existing actions like requiring users to delete specific tweets or provide a telephone number.

On the technology side, Twitter is testing a feature that will automatically identify abusive tweets and "limit their reach." The system takes into account things like account age and how similar a tweet is to tweets that have been flagged as abusive from the support team. It's not clear exactly what "limit their reach" means but Twitter says the system "will not affect your ability to see content that you’ve explicitly sought out, such as Tweets from accounts you follow, but instead is designed to help us limit the potential harm of abusive content."

It'll be interesting to see how much this helps. Preventing abusive tweets from being seen by the intended recipient seems to me like treating the symptom rather than the disease, but any progress towards cleaning up the service is good news.

In an unrelated (and at first glance, completely contrary) announcement earlier this week, Twitter rolled out a new option: the ability to receive Direct Messages from anyone, not just people who you follow (and who follow you). This new feature is off by default, and is found under the Security and Privacy section of your settings.

I don't think Twitter created this option for regular users, but I can see where it would be helpful for companies who do customer support via Twitter. Several times I've looked to get support from a company and the first step always involves me following them, and them following me, so I can then DM them an account number or some other data that I wouldn't want to share publicly. If a corporate Twitter account had the new option turned on I could skip that step and go right to DMing them any requested info.

So a nice tool for some company accounts but I would strongly urge individuals to leave that option turned off!

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