Editorial, Opinion

EDITORIAL: Twitter’s Trust and Safety Council won’t halt cyberbullying

Twitter trolls beware — Twitter unveiled its Twitter Trust and Safety Council Tuesday to handle cases of online abuse. The council is made up of around 40 anti-harassment organizations, according to its site, and will review Twitter’s new proposals and products and ensure users are operating and tweeting in a safe environment.

Patricia Cartes, Twitter’s head of global policy outreach, said in a blog post that the purpose of this council is to “ensure people can continue to express themselves freely and safely on Twitter.”

This news follows Twitter’s July 2015 unveiling of a Safety Center and improved procedure for blocking hateful accounts. A year ago in February 2015, then-CEO Dick Costolo wrote in an internal memo, “We suck at dealing with abuse and trolls on the platform and we’ve sucked at it for years.”

It’s very unclear what role Twitter’s new committee will play in the fight against online abuse. Of course, the council won’t review every single tweet sent out, but its anti-bullying organizations should play a large part in shaping Twitter’s policies to come.

However, it’ll be interesting to see how Twitter and its new council compete with other social networks such as Facebook and Instagram.

Facebook allows users to report offensive posts and follows through on investigating and disabling hateful accounts. Instagram immediately takes down photos that violate its community guidelines, and it has sometimes even gotten carried away in doing so.

There’s a large difference in policing cyberbullying through text-based communication than through visually based communication. Twitter’s 140-character limit encourages users to come up with slang and shorthand that could be difficult to interpret. Reading a tweet’s connotation is often difficult.

Additionally, the model Twitter uses to punish hateful trolls isn’t effective in discouraging offensive behavior. Once a hateful tweet is sent out, the damage has already been done. If it’s reported and the account is deactivated, the account’s owner can just create a new one and start spewing hate anew.

Trolls are going to troll. Taking tweets down won’t prevent future spamming.

It’s also difficult to predict if Twitter’s new policies against cyberbullying will actually do anything. Even if Twitter utilizes this committee to its fullest potential, there’s no way the company can stop all users from posting hateful messages. Targeting one person at a time won’t eradicate online hate.

However, thinking that something is futile is a horrible mindset when it comes to combatting cyberbullying — or any endeavor, for that matter. If it might work, then there’s no reason not to try it. Twitter’s renewed policies could have some impact on its hundreds of millions of users, however miniscule that impact may be.

The conversation then turns to what cyberbullying actually encompasses. Celebrities receive innumerable hateful tweets every day, yet the troll accounts rarely, if ever, get suspended. Cyber-hating celebrities is now so commonplace that late night television has even made a video series out of it. Celebrities are expected to put up with anonymous hate while the rest of the population is safeguarded.

It’s important to distinguish between celebrities and normal folk. The smaller the audience, the more personal the hate seems.

Twitter, being as public as it is, is a strange place to bully someone. That’s because it has already begun to self-regulate. If hateful tweets reach a wide enough audience, backlash is almost guaranteed. Public shaming, a form of bullying itself, tells Internet users what is acceptable to say online and what isn’t. But that only applies to large-scale Twitter.

In small-scale Twitter, among middle schoolers for example, hateful tweets would probably go unchecked and would ultimately persist. This is where Twitter’s cyberbullying policies actually do come in handy.

In conjunction with taking down offensive content, Twitter should start an entire movement via sponsored tweets condemning hateful tweets. It may not work, but it also might. So why not? Limiting the abusive side of the Internet is always a good thing.

Whether people like it or not, social media is now a central part of personal interaction and has become integrated into everyday life. With the increased presence of social media, hate doesn’t have to be a part of our everyday lives as well.

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