Twitter Just Made It Easier to Block Internet Trolls

Harassers and haters are simpler to block, thanks to improved Twitter features.

(Photo: Getty Images)

Dec 4, 2014· 1 MIN READ
TakePart fellow Jessica Dollin studied journalism at the University of Arizona. She has written for the Phoenix New Times and HerCampus.

Twitter users will soon have an easier time blocking haters thanks to new features on the site, the company announced Tuesday. The improved “block” function, which is the primary line of defense against Internet harassers, is one of the first steps the site said it is taking toward making the site safer.

Sexist trolls are ever-present on Twitter, and following a series of incidents that outraged activist groups including the National Organization for Women, the company is addressing the problem.

When a video of a woman being catcalled on the streets of New York went viral in October, many found comments on social media just as offensive as the words of the men she encountered. Gamer women who have spoken out against sexism in video games have become the targets of attacks on Twitter; one reviewer, Anita Sarkeesian, received death threats when it was announced that she would give a speech at the University of Utah. (She canceled the speech.)

“Our increased daily presence online makes Internet safety an important issue,” said Kate Kenski, a communications and political science professor at the University of Arizona. “Several incidents in the news, from Gamergate to cyberbullying leading to teen suicides, reveal very ugly sides to human behavior that often fester in the online environment, where people hide behind anonymity and are distanced from the effects that their comments have on others, resulting in a failure to take responsibility.”

In November, Twitter teamed up with the advocacy group WAM! (Women, Action, and the Media) to create a pilot project that tracks incidents of sexual harassment on the website, which are then investigated.

“We’re improving the reporting process to overall make it simpler to flag tweets and accounts for review,” said Twitter’s director of product management, Shreyas Doshi.

Other changes the company has made to the blocking process include faster response times in addressing cases of harassment and the ability for users to report harassment they find on the site even if they are not the target of the abuse.

The social media platform plans to continue tweaking the block feature in the next few months by giving users more controls. Only a select group of account holders have access to the updates now, but the company said they will be universal in the coming weeks.

The announcement comes after the Supreme Court began reviewing a case involving a man who repeatedly made threats on Facebook to his now ex-wife, whom he was divorcing at the time. The court will decide if death threats on the Internet are protected under the First Amendment.

The Pew Research Center conducted a study earlier this year that found online harassment is impossible to define, because conventional ideas about libel, slander, and threatening speech are difficult to apply to the Internet. The Supreme Court case could set a precedent for how to address the ambiguity of the problem.

The two most common forms of cyberbullying, for both men and women, are name-calling and having potentially embarrassing information revealed. Stalking and sexual harassment are less common, according to the Pew study.