Twitter turns to outsiders to combat abusive tweeting

The company will work with 40 organizations to figure out ways to combat the harassment that plagues the Twittersphere.

Forty outside groups will help Twitter combat hateful and abusive tweets.

James Martin/CNET

Former Twitter CEO Dick Costolo once acknowledged that "we suck at dealing with abuse and trolls on the platform and we've sucked at it for years." Now the company is confronting the problem in a new way.

The company is forming the Twitter Trust & Safety Council to get feedback on harassment and bullying, Patricia Cartes, Twitter's head of global policy outreach, said Tuesday in a blog post.

More than 40 organizations are joining the council, which will seek to make sure people feel safe when they express themselves on the site.

Like many online forums, Twitter finds itself pulled in opposite directions. It seeks to be an avenue for free speech and open opinions, but such speech can sometimes become abusive and even threatening. If the company wants to pull in an ever-larger community, the more hostile aspects must be tamed.

Several abusive incidents have grabbed the public's attention in the past couple of years. Last February, writer Lindy West revealed that people had created a Twitter account in the name of her deceased father to make crude comments about her. Back in August 2014, Zelda Williams temporarily deleted the Twitter app from her phone due to tormenting tweets that followed the suicide of her father, Robin Williams.

This month, a Twitter employee named Brandon Carpenter posted a few tweets in response to rumors that the site planned to change the organization of peoples' timelines. Following a barrage of nasty responses, Carpenter tweeted, "Wow people on Twitter are mean."

Twitter has taken steps in the past to try to curb abuse.

The company routinely removes tweets and entire accounts that are deemed hateful. Over the weekend, Twitter revealed it had suspended more than 125,000 accounts with suspected links to terrorist group Islamic State, noting that violent threats are not permitted on the service. On the flip side, Muslims, who are often targets of hateful speech, have created their own social network where they can more freely discuss their religious beliefs.

Twitter has also devised features to combat hate speech.

Last March, Twitter unveiled a tool to help you gather relevant information when you report an abusive or harmful tweet. In June, Twitter introduced a feature that lets users share block lists with fellow tweeters who may be getting harassed by the same accounts.

As hateful tweets continue to fill the site, the Trust & Safety Council marks an attempt by the company to seek outside help to deal with the problem. The groups in the council include:

  • Safety advocates, academics and researchers focused on children, media and efforts to create a kinder Internet.
  • Grassroots groups that use Twitter to build up and rally followers.
  • Community groups seeking to stop harassment and bullying, as well as those focused on mental health and suicide prevention.

Exactly how much impact the council can have is the challenge.

A Twitter spokesman said the company hopes the council will enable it to tackle "issues more efficiently and quickly."

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