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Twitter finds new ways to put hate speech on mute

The social network gives its users more tools to combat abuse, bullying and harassment.

Twitter is expanding its mute function.
James Martin/CNET

Twitter thrives on being one of the fastest ways to see what people are talking about. But its real-time stream of news and opinion also channels abuse and hate speech, which in turn drives people off the platform altogether.

The company has long recognized the problem, but it has been slow to figure out a way to fix things. Twitter said as much in a blog post Tuesday: "The amount of abuse, bullying, and harassment we've seen across the Internet has risen sharply over the past few years. These behaviors inhibit people from participating on Twitter, or anywhere."

As part of a longer-term change, Twitter is expanding its mute function. Until now the feature's been used for keeping individual Twitter users out of your stream -- which isn't that helpful if you're being harassed by multiple users or by people who create new accounts every time they're muted or suspended.

Now, the feature can be used to mute notifications, based on keywords, phrases and entire conversations. The changes will roll out in the coming days, Twitter said.

The company also said it has retrained internal support teams, which are responsible for enforcing Twitter's code of conduct and investigating reports of violations. In addition, it said it is giving users a more direct way to report hateful conduct.

The change toward curbing abusive behavior comes about four months after the social media platform responded to complaints by actress-comedian Leslie Jones, who briefly left Twitter after her tweetstorm about being a victim of sexist and racist abuse.

It led to CEO Jack Dorsey reaching out to her, and Twitter subsequently permanently suspending the account of British journalist and Breitbart editor Milo Yiannopoulos, one of the principals accused of launching the abuse campaign against Jones.

Even US President-elect Donald Trump has used Twitter to disparage campaign rivals and others. Last month he went on an epic tweetstorm targeting Hillary Clinton and former Miss Universe Alicia Machado.

"No one deserves to be the target of abuse on Twitter," Dorsey told investors in July. "We haven't been good enough at ensuring that's the case, and we need to do better."

He's also remained steadfast that Twitter isn't about censoring speech.

"We are not, and never will be, a platform that shows people only part of what's happening," he said. "Abuse is not civil discourse."

Despite previous features designed to make it easier for users to report and minimize abuse, Twitter acknowledged Tuesday it still has a long way to go. "We don't expect these announcements to suddenly remove abusive conduct from Twitter."

You can read the full announcement here.

Originally published November 15, 7:02 a.m. PT.

Update, 1:28 p.m. PT: Adds background information.