Twitter is not the only social media platform that has a problem with online abuse on the part of its users—YouTube, for example, is notorious for the problem. The fact that it has become a public relations concern for Twitter reflects the fact that it is second only to Facebook when in comes to communication and social interaction on the internet.
Twitter ought to be concerned, and can learn a lesson from the fall of MySpace, where a sense of "lawlessness" and "anything goes" contributed to the mass migration to Facebook, where controls over user behavior are more stringent, creating a very safe, you might say suburban, white bread kind of environment. First and foremost, to follow Facebook's lead, Twitter would have to become much more responsive to user complaints, essentially issuing warnings and shutting accounts down whenever any user is accused of abusive behavior.
The problem they face is that Twitter has gained much from its wide open atmosphere, not so much an open frontier like the old MySpace, but more like an urban and urbane melting pot of myriad voices. Crack down too much on offensive tweets, and you lose the open atmosphere that makes Twitter so attractive, and you alienate users who view that sort of activity as censorship. Twitter will need to engage in a very tricky balancing act between the need to provide a safe and attractive environment and otherwise show users they are in control and care about abusive behavior, while maintaining their status as an open and democratic platform. The problem they face in the virtual world is exactly the same problem we face in open societies in real life, between security and freedom, between the needs of the community and the rights of the individual.
Long time readers of Blog Time Passing may find my comparison of Twitter, Facebook, and the old MySpace familiar, expressed for example in my post of March 1, 2009, About Face(book).
Be that as it may, let's turn now to de Looper's recent article about Twitter, which begins with the following introduction:
A memo written by Twitter CEO Dick Costolo has been leaked, with Costolo admitting that Twitter "sucks at dealing with trolls."
The memo also resolved that Twitter needs to fight online abuse head-on. But what exactly can Twitter do to put an end to harassment on Twitter?
Now comes those three things Twitter can do to curb online abuse, and the first one is where my quotes, taken out of the larger commentary I provided, comes in:
1. Twitter Needs To Get Ruthless
Twitter has been very passive about its online abuse problem. The company has not made real efforts to combat the issue.
"To follow Facebook's lead, Twitter would have to become much more responsive to user complaints, essentially issuing warnings and shutting accounts down whenever any user is accused of abusive behavior," said Lance Strate, professor of communications and media studies at Fordham University, in an email with Tech Times.
Twitter, however, is in the middle of a balancing act. The service currently has a very "open" vibe about it, and cracking down too hard on users could take away from this.
"The problem they face in the virtual world is exactly the same problem we face in open societies in real life, between security and freedom, the needs of the community and the rights of the individual," continued Strate.
So, now, that's it for me, but let's get the other two bits of advice, shall we?
2. Twitter Needs to Be Public About Its Abuse Battle
Online abuse is not a problem unique to Twitter. YouTube is notorious for Internet trolls that comment on videos with the idea of wanting to take people down a peg. Often comments aren't even related to the videos being posted.
The problem for Twitter, however, is a little different because of the public relations issues involved. If Twitter is going to successfully put an end to abuse on its platform, it needs to be public about it. The issues surrounding public abuse on Twitter could end tomorrow, but that doesn't mean that users will think that it has. Twitter's reputation is important when it comes to gaining users. In fact, many users have left Twitter because of its online abuse problem, and it's likely that they won't come back until Twitter is able to successfully deal with the problem.
3. Twitter Needs To Do It In-House
In the past, Twitter has rather famously left dealing with online abuse to third parties, most notably Women, Action and the Media (WAM!).
The fact that Twitter has not dealt with the problem internally shows a lack of caring from the company. It seems, however, as though the company will finally be stepping up.
Twitter must deal with the problem in-house, and must hire people to deal with it. The tools for the company to be able to combat online abuse have been put in place -- there is a "blocked accounts" page where users can see who has been blocked from their feed, for example, and users can more easily report issues. Now Twitter needs to have employees that deal with those problems.
|The conflict between safety and growth lies at the heart of Abraham Maslow's humanistic psychology of motivation, as famously represented by his Hierarchy of Needs diagram|
So, once again, it comes down to a fundamental conflict. Openness is democratic, and facilitates originality, creativity, and growth, but brings with it risk and danger, in this instance the possibility of abuse, as well as scams and spam, and various forms of cybercrime. Closing things off provides more of a margin of safety and security, but at the cost of the ferment that made the platform, group, or society interesting and vibrant in the first place. How to find the balance, to avoid being boring as well as to curb abuse, that is the question.