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Twitter's new Safety Center explains how to deal with online abuse

The new webpage comes in the midst of greater concerns about threats and harassment on the microblogging site.

Lance Whitney Contributing Writer
Lance Whitney is a freelance technology writer and trainer and a former IT professional. He's written for Time, CNET, PCMag, and several other publications. He's the author of two tech books--one on Windows and another on LinkedIn.
Lance Whitney
3 min read

Twitter has rolled out a new Safety Center to help you deal with online abuse. James Martin/CNET

Twitter has unveiled a new Safety Center page as the company strives to cut down on abusive behavior on the site.

Launched on Monday, the Safety Center page is described as the company's commitment to "building a safer Twitter." Organized by different topics, the page points you to tools that you can use to control what others can see about you and report accounts that may violate Twitter's rules. For example, you can report spam, abuse and other types of violations from a specific tweet or profile.

Twitter has faced a tough time dealing with trolls and other abusive users. Like many social media sites, the company has to cross the tightrope of trying to preserve free speech but at the same time ensure that its members feel safe and secure. In February, former Twitter CEO Dick Costolo admitted that " we suck at dealing with abuse and trolls on the platform and we've sucked at it for years." The ex-CEO also acknowledged that the site loses core users by not dealing better with trolls. So the problem hurts its victims on a personal level and also affects Twitter as a business that needs to build its audience and not lose more of them.

Just a few examples: In 2013, a woman who campaigned to put novelist Jane Austen on a UK banknote received death and rape threats on Twitter. Also in 2013, columnists Hadley Freeman and Grace Dent, and Europe editor of Time magazine Catherine Meyer received bomb threats on Twitter. In August 2014, the death of Robin Williams prompted some Twitter users to send abusive message to his daughter, causing her to temporarily leave the service. And in the same month, Anita Sarkeesian, who has spoken out about the way women are portrayed in video games, left her home in fear of her life after a Twitter user made threats against her and her family, indicating that he knew her address.

In response, Twitter has rolled out a series of features this past year to try to clamp down on abuse.

Last December, the company unveiled a set of tools for its mobile app to help people fight harassment, report abuse and view the accounts they've blocked. In March, Twitter set up a feature where you can create automated harrassment reports to show to law enforcement. And in April, the company announced that it would suspend abusive accounts and force those users to delete offensive tweets.

So what does the new Safety Center offer? Beyond listing tools to report abuse, the page clearly states Twitter's policies on abuse, spam and other violations. A section on enforcement also explains how Twitter attempts to handle user reports of abuse and the abusers themselves.

"We take many actions in response to abuse violations," Twitter said. "This can start with basic measures, such as requiring users to delete content or verify a phone number. More abusive accounts may also be locked out of Twitter for specific periods of time. In some cases, we permanently suspend accounts."

The Safety Center also offers specific sections for teenagers, families, and educators, explaining what they can do to make sure kids are using the site safely and securely. In essence, the page is a one-stop shop for learning how to deal with abuse and other violations on Twitter.

The company has also promised to increase the information available in the Safety Center and offer the page in more languages.

"Your online safety is a shared responsibility, and digital citizenship is essential to fostering a safe environment for all," Patricia Cartes, head of global trust & safety outreach for public policy at Twitter, said in a blog posted on Monday. "As Twitter evolves along with the world of online safety, we will continue to create new materials for the Safety Center. And since we are a global community, in the coming weeks the Safety Center will be translated into some of the most-used languages on Twitter and even more languages over time."

With 302 million monthly active members and 500 million tweets sent per day, finding and cracking down on abuse certainly presents a challenge for Twitter. And It's clearly not a problem the company is ignoring. But it's a problem the company needs to continue to address if it expects its core members to continue using the site.