“We found no violation of Twitter’s Rules.”

For my own privacy, I am posting this message to Medium anonymously. Please don’t try to find me or the specific user I’m talking about here. I’m not here to discuss how law enforcement will play a role in what took place—I’m here specifically to discuss Twitter’s disgustingly poor response to it.

Before I continue, I should say that I love Twitter. I’ve made thousands of really great, personal connections on Twitter. I’ve been a Twitter user for over 10 years. Twitter is easily my favorite social network. Which is why I’m posting this message and not quietly quitting the service, like I’m sure many others have done. I genuinely want Twitter to be successful.

“Helping you stay safe on Twitter.”

Twitter has been in the news lately for taking steps to improve safety for users of their service. Twitter even has a special account, @TwitterSafety, dedicated to “Helping you stay safe on Twitter.”

Tweeted by Twitter’s VP of Engineering, Ed Ho.

To their credit, Twitter has carefully outlined a very reasonable set of rules for how users should behave on the service. Here are a few excerpts:

We believe in freedom of expression and in speaking truth to power, but that means little as an underlying philosophy if voices are silenced because people are afraid to speak up. In order to ensure that people feel safe expressing diverse opinions and beliefs, we do not tolerate behavior that crosses the line into abuse, including behavior that harasses, intimidates, or uses fear to silence another user’s voice.
Violent threats (direct or indirect): You may not make threats of violence or promote violence.
Harassment: You may not incite or engage in the targeted abuse or harassment of others.
Hateful conduct: You may not promote violence against or directly attack or threaten other people on the basis of race, ethnicity, national origin, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, religious affiliation, age, disability, or disease.

Policy Enforcement

How effective is Twitter at enforcing their own stated policies? How well are they following through with their promises to make Twitter a safer place? Unfortunately, I recently learned the disappointing answers to those questions.

For three solid weeks I’ve been reporting violent, abusive, targeted tweets from one specific Twitter user. I have personally received threats from this user on Twitter and through other communication channels. Personal friends of mine have been targeted as well. Again, please do not vigilante-internet-sleuth this user. It won’t help anyone and may actively cause harm. If you read this Twitter user’s profile, it’s a long stream of threats and thoughts of personally killing or wishing death to persons on the basis of race and gender. He tweets longingly for Dylann Roof copycats.

Many violent and threatening tweets have been reported through Twitter’s abuse reporting tools. How did Twitter respond?

If you guessed “Twitter banned this user’s account for blatant violations of very clearly stated policy,” sorry—no, not this time. Twitter responded with:

“We found no violation of Twitter’s Rules.” — Twitter Support

With those seven words, it became immediately clear that Twitter has no real desire to reduce harassment on their platform. Twitter is adding new abuse prevention features (e.g. muting egg avatars) carefully designed to “Let Twitter users eat cake.”

But it doesn’t matter how many abuse reporting and prevention tools are added—if Twitter can’t solve this baseline, atomic problem of accurately reviewing abusive content they will continue to facilitate sexism, racism, and violence on their platform. When it comes to abuse prevention, we don’t need cake. We need bread.

Twitter Needs to Make Substantive Changes

Twitter can’t proactively stop all abuse on their platform—that’s not a reasonable expectation. But Twitter does need to make changes, and the following changes would be a great start:

  1. Consistent enforcement of policy. Twitter can and should enforce their own published policies when reviewing reported tweets. If the existing policy is vague, it needs to be updated and clarified. Any exceptions to policy must be explained in sufficient detail. The more transparency in this step, the better.
  2. Violation reports should not be discrete, independent cases. They should not exist in a vacuum. Past reports must be accessible to reviewers, even if they didn’t result in disciplinary action.
  3. Twitter must fix their data retention policy regarding deleted tweets. “Content deleted by account holders (e.g., Tweets) is generally not available.” This is unacceptable. Deleted tweets must be available to report reviewers.
  4. Perhaps most significantly, Twitter should add granular per-tweet privacy controls. Existing controls allow you to toggle all of the tweets for a specific account private or public, which paints with a very broad brush. Why can’t I make a particular tweet private? Or make a tweet shown only to mutual followers? Twitter needs to ask themselves what’s more valuable: engagement or safety?

As this particular canary in the coal mine Twitter user has proven, Jack Dorsey and company are talking out of both sides of their mouth about their response to abuse on the Twitter platform. Their actions do not match their words and they need to do better.

Twitter, if you’re reading this and you’d like to work together towards bettering privacy and safety for users on your platform, please send me an email. Know that I wrote this because I want Twitter to succeed.

Help!

You, the reader, at this point may be asking: How can I help? First and foremost, please share this post (if you know my identity, please respect that I wish this post to stay anonymous). Recommend it on Medium. Consider sharing your own Twitter story. Did Twitter handle your case appropriately? Did Twitter act in contradiction to their stated policy? Public pressure placed on Jack Dorsey and the Twitter team can be transformed into motivation for meaningful change to better the platform for everyone.

Addendum

Independent of the above requests to better Twitter’s platform, as an addendum here are a few general resources to help you protect yourself online: