I use Twitter to rant about my life and share articles and tweets by others that speak to me and are related to my life in one way or another. With my 140 characters, I try to be funny, relatable and accurate. However, Twitter has become a social network service that went through a form of metamorphosis with the rise of celebrity culture and the current political sphere. Twitter has become a platform for celebrities to bicker among each other – for everyone to see – and for politicians to make their personal voice heard among the voices of their respective advisors and spokespersons; on Twitter, you are getting a more personal connection with the celebrity or, let’s say, president.
The problem with social media in general, and Twitter in particular, is that behind every account lies a person who makes a reoccurring decision to either contribute positively or negatively to the digital conversation being had. When a person, hidden behind a screen, decides to be a destructive force in a dialogue, basically being a troll and using their words in a pointed and hurtful way, the matter of the platform’s policies against harassment come into question. This is the exact issue that Twitter has announced that it is working on combatting.
At the end of 2016, Twitter announced its plan to increase their anti-harassment features on the site. What Twitter plans on doing is a threefold ‘attack’ on cyber bullies that spout hate speech, abuse other people, and troll; ultimately making the Twittersphere a safer and more pleasant place to be. The three elements that had already been implemented are “a mute filter, muted conversation threads, and new user report infrastructure,” while the three new ones are algorithmic changes that produce a ‘safe search’, a shift in the timeline visibility, collapsing any abusive or hurtful tweets, and the companies plan to go after those individuals who open new accounts after old ones have been shut down due to inappropriate online behavior.
While the algorithmic changes are not solving the problem at its core – the people, it is helping people like you and me to not be exposed to negative remarks, making the scrolling through Twitter more fitting for our personal tastes. The safe search results are able to remove any potentially negative results from the list, while the timeline change works in a way that detects abusive or inappropriate comments, and collapses them before you see them.
The reason Twitter needs all of these newly implemented actions, is mostly due to the new political sphere that has decided to use Twitter as their battle ground. Twitter is the favorite tool of the new administration and the American people to voice their opinion, whether in agreement or opposition of a particular issue. The amount of harassment that occurs in the comments, replies, and retweets of a tweet is inconceivable.
Until such time that leaders learn that their words should be carefully chosen when spread across the digital world of billions of people, whether their citizens or not, and not written in an emotional state and sent forth carelessly through the Twittersphere, starting a frenzy of backlash from both sides of the argument; only then will the winds calm and the harassment felt by many blow over.