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Twitter updates its rules for users after uproar over rape, bomb threats

The company modifies its rules and says it will add more staff to vet flagged tweets, after an outcry in Britain over tweeted rape and bomb threats to female journalists and a member of Parliament.

A tweeted bomb threat received by Time magazine Europe Editor Catherine Mayer. A member of Parliament also received a rape threat by way of Twitter.

Twitter has updated its rules for users and is adding more staff to police abusive tweets after an uproar and an arrest in the U.K. over rape and bomb threats, and a day before a scheduled boycott of the service.

Twitter U.K. sent a tweet this morning pointing users to a blog post that announces the rules and staffing changes and reiterates that a "report abuse" button will be added to mobile and Web versions of the site. And Twitter U.K. General Manager Tony Wang later confirmed that the changes were being made worldwide.

"I personally apologize to the women who have experienced abuse on Twitter and for what they have gone through," Wang wrote in a series of follow-up tweets. "The abuse they've received is simply not acceptable. It's not acceptable in the real world, and it's not acceptable on Twitter...There is more we can and will be doing to protect our users against abuse. That is our commitment."

The new rules include an Abuse and Spam section that addresses targeted abuse:

Targeted Abuse: You may not engage in targeted abuse or harassment. Some of the factors that we take into account when determining what conduct is considered to be targeted abuse or harassment are:

  • ♦ if you are sending messages to a user from multiple accounts;
  • ♦ if the sole purpose of your account is to send abusive messages to others;
  • ♦ if the reported behavior is one-sided or includes threats.

The blog post also mentions additional measures that Twitter UK, specifically, is taking. The UK branch will work with the UK Safer Internet Center to "expand user resources on digital citizenship and staying safe online" and will also "use the Twitter platform -- including Promoted Tweets and a Promoted Trend" to publicize the center and its resources.

The moves follow outcry in Britain over abuse on the site. Earlier this month, freelance journalist and feminist campaigner Caroline Criado-Perez was subjected to a blizzard of abusive tweets, including rape threats, after she and others successfully lobbied to have novelist Jane Austen featured on a U.K. banknote.

Criado-Perez and others called on Twitter to simplify the reporting of abuse and to take more responsibility for content on its site, and Scotland Yard arrested a 21-year-old man in connection with abusive tweets.

Others caught in the crossfire included Member of Parliament Stella Creasy, who also received a tweeted rape threat, and several female journalists, including Time magazine Europe Editor Catherine Mayer, who received tweeted bomb threats. Those threats came even after the Scotland Yard arrest.

The situation led to a volley of commentary by members of the British press, including a call from Times of London columnist Caitlin Moran to boycott Twitter on August 4, International Friendship Day, for a #trolliday.

Britain's Labor Party had also criticized Twitter's initial response to the abusive tweets against Criado-Perez, with Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper writing to the company, "social media platforms also have a responsibility for the platform they give users. And in particular they have a responsibility not to tolerate this kind of abuse, rape threats, and potentially criminal behavior...The response by Twitter has clearly been inadequate and fails not only Caroline, but many more women and girls who have faced similar abuse."