With public backlash growing, Twitter says it's taking steps to crack down on hate speech, from making it easier to report alleged incidents on the social media service to educating moderators on what kind of conduct violates the rules. Twitter users will also gain more control over their experience on Twitter with the ability to mute words and phrases, even entire conversations, if they don't want to receive notifications about them, said Del Harvey, Twitter's head of safety. The effort comes as an uptick in biased graffiti, assaults and other incidents have been reported in the news and on social media since Election Day, prompting president-elect Donald Trump to call for people to "stop it" during a 60 Minutes interview on Sunday night. The FBI reports that hate crimes rose 7% in 2015, led by attacks on Muslim Americans. It's also in response to escalating concern about abuse and harassment on Twitter that has stalled growth among users and advertisers alike.
Ed Ho, the general manager of consumer product and engineering for Twitter, penned the blog post that detailed how the changes had changed safety of users in the past months. The limited functionality holds Twitter places on accounts that are reported and found positive for abuse actually generate 25 percent fewer abuse reports after they're limited, said the post. In addition to changes made on the company's side of safety, controls around personal settings were also added to the app to allow users to personalize their experience better. While there have been improvements Ho wrote that there is more to be done when it comes to making Twitter a safer place for users.
Twitter is set to get serious with trolls. The app has bought security startup Smyte, which was designed to help companies curb spam, fraud, and online harassment, for an undisclosed sum. Smyte was created by a team of ex-Google and Instagram engineers, and counted a number of high-profile online services among its clients, including TaskRabbit and GoFundMe. However, Twitter is not interested in Smyte as a business venture – it is solely focused on applying its troll-beating technology to its social network to curb harassment and Russian propaganda-linked accounts. It is unclear exactly how Twitter will implement the systems developed by Smyte to police its users' behaviour.
When Twitter could take credit for revolutionary political movements like the Arab Spring, it was easy for the company's executives to joke about their liberal stance on free speech. But things are a bit more complicated now, as Twitter increasingly plays host to bullies, harassers, Nazis, propaganda-spreading bots, ISIS recruiters, and threats of nuclear war.
Twitter has repeatedly come under fire for not doing enough to stop hate speech, allowing outside groups to sow political discord and failing to limit the spread of misinformation. To address these issues, the company announced earlier this year that it was looking for outside experts to help in its effort to promote healthy, open and civil conversations on its platform. Now, it's acquiring a company that might be able to boost those efforts internally. Twitter announced today that it is purchasing Smyte, a San Francisco-based firm that "specializes in safety, spam and security issues." In a blog post, Twitter said today, "Smyte's team, technology and company mission are aligned with our focus on improving the health of conversation on Twitter, and we believe this will be a powerful addition to our ongoing work."