Twitter Touts Progress Combating Abuse, But Repeat Victims Remain Frustrated

"There is still much work to be done.”

It’s been just over seven months since Twitter pledged to move faster to combat the systemic abuse problem that has plagued it for a decade, and the company claims to have made dramatic improvements in that time.

In a Thursday blog post by Ed Ho, Twitter’s general manager of the consumer product and engineering groups, the company said that users are “experiencing significantly less abuse on Twitter today than they were six months ago.” The company also touted, for the first time, statistics about its progress on combating abuse. According to Ho, Twitter is “taking action on 10x the number of abusive accounts every day compared to the same time last year” and has limited account functionality and suspended “thousands more abusive accounts each day” compared to the same time last year.

Twitter claims this uptick in account suspensions and limitations is changing the behavior of its most contentious users. According to Ho, 65% of limited accounts are only suspended once for rules violations; after Twitter limits or suspends accounts for a brief time (and explains why), these users “generate 25% fewer abuse reports.”

Lastly, the company said that it has seen evidence that its biggest anti-abuse feature — customized muting and algorithmic filtering tools — is “having a positive impact.” According to Ho, “blocks after @mentions from people you don’t follow are down 40%.”

Despite the victory lap, Twitter conceded that “there is still much work to be done” — an admission borne out by the experiences of many users still suffering from harassment on the platform.

Ho said that Twitter’s “new systems have removed twice the number” of abusive accounts in the last four months alone, and noted that the company's human-led safety and support teams continue "to review content daily and improve how we enforce our policies.” Still, a concerning number of users have found Twitter’s “new systems” to be remarkably like the old ones when it comes to dismissing valid harassment reports. Earlier this week, BuzzFeed News reported that Twitter’s inconsistent enforcement of harassment reports has led frustrated victims of abuse to look to a third party — often the media — to intervene.

In a quick Twitter search of the last seven months, BuzzFeed News found 27 examples of seemingly clear examples of harassment that, when reported to Twitter, were dismissed as not being in violation of the social network's rules forbidding abuse. BuzzFeed News also solicited users on Twitter for examples of clear harassment that were dismissed by the company. In mere hours, that call yielded 89 direct messages from users claiming to have received at least one improper dismissal of a harassment report (over half of the respondents cited multiple examples). Many of the examples provided to BuzzFeed News appeared to be explicit violations of Twitter’s rules, including one account with 899 tweets all targeted at a female sportswriter. That account remains active today.

Asked to explain its dismissal of what appear to be obvious violations of its rules, Twitter declined to comment, citing its policy on individual account privacy. Asked to explain why, after inquiries from the media, Twitter took action on a number of reports it initially dismissed, a company spokesperson offered a statement noting that Twitter has been “working hard to communicate with our users more transparently about safety.”

That may be so, but for some Twitter users there's a profound lack of clarity around the company's harassment policies and their enforcement. “There's no way to appeal to them and tell them why they got the decision not to remove tweets wrong," one user told BuzzFeed News of her experience with abuse reports. "So people who are threatened basically have no choice but to go to someone with a bigger platform."

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