Twitter’s trolling problem is storied and long. And a vitriolic presidential campaign is among the many reasons why online abuse morphed into a nightmare for the social media site. Celebrities such as Leslie Jones of Saturday Night Live jumped off the platform — some never to return — as they became the target of hate speech, and other users went dark as Twitter appeared lacking any ideas on how to find solutions.
Earlier this week, the company announced it had made “progress” on halting online abuse and harassment. The solution: an expansion of the mute feature. The problem, however, is that Twitter puts the onus on users to decide what hashtags, phrases, keywords or even entire conversations they do not want to see in their feed. As Alex Eule succinctly describes in Barron’s, Twitter’s new policy amounts merely to, “Ignorance is bliss.”
The feature will not do anything to avoid hate speech, as the mute option will only apply to a user’s notification. Similar Tweets could still appear in a search, on a timeline or on a third-party app such as TweetDeck. Furthermore, not many users will be thrilled about the task of having to go to Urban Dictionary or other online sources to type in a list of words that are pejoratives for their gender, ethnicity, race, profession or sexual orientation.
Twitter claims to have hired teams to monitor hate speech and also said it suspended thousands of accounts known for spouting hateful rhetoric. Those moves come when many citizens are rethinking social media’s role in society – especially as it turns out that “fake news” on Facebook outperformed verifiable news sources in the weeks running up to Election Day. The perversion of what qualifies as news has reached a point where one fake news writer told the Washington Post he had a huge role in catapulting Donald Trump into the White House.
The toxic swamp into which social media has morphed made it even more difficult for Twitter to find a buyer. The company has long under-performed financially as it has not figured out how to monetize its catchy 140-word platform, and the endless headaches resulting from online trolling have not helped matters. Salesforce.com and Google shied away from opportunities to add Twitter to their empires. Bloomberg reported that Disney also backed away the company out of fears the uncivil discourse rife on the site would mar its family-friendly image.
“We should all stand together” is Twitter’s mantra, as it begs for users to be patient and take steps to protect everyone from trolling. The problem for Twitter is that more users refuse to stand around while a bunch of supposedly technology geniuses find an answer to curb the online vitriol that has made the site a font for hateful speech. Instead, they are running away and finding social media channels that provide a safe zone in which to share their ideas, musings and photos.
Image credit: Anthony Quintano