Things Twitter could do

FailWhaleI think few people would deny that Twitter has a troll problem. For us regular users with a few hundred followers it’s easy enough to block the occasional drive-by troll, especially if we’re male. But it’s a different story for public figures, especially women, who can find themselves bombarded with hundreds of abusive messages.

Technical solutions for social problems aren’t ideal, but trying to re-educate the sections of the population who live in the bottom half of the internet is at best a very long term project.  In the meantime there are things Twitter could do make it harder for trolls to ruin people’s Twitter experience.

One would be to give users the ability to filter the Notifictations tab. At the moment, anyone you haven’t blocked will be visible in that tab if they @message your username. It’s not technically difficult to filter than by degrees of separation, so what you see in your Connections tab can take into account things like:

  • The number of people you’re following who follow them
  • The number of people you follow who have blocked them
  • The total number of people who have blocked them relative to their number of followers.

Of course it would need to be refined to prevent the trolls themselves from gaming the system. For example, perhaps blocks from those who are very block-happy but have themselves collected a lot of blocks could be disregarded.

Twitter could also crack down on abuse of multiple accounts. There are plenty of legitimate reasons why people need multiple accounts, but it’s well known that trolls often churn through multiple throwaway accounts as each one gets blocked by their targets. Surely it’s not impossible for some kind of pattern-matching on IP addresses and word use to identify which accounts are being used by the same, and deal with them accordingly when any one is suspeded for abuse.

Twitter is very efficient at nuking spam accounts, and they’re pretty easy to identify algorithmically. Dealing with trolls is harder, and will require more human intervention, but that’s no excuse for Twitter to do nothing. As I’ve pointed out, there are plemty of things they could do if the will was there.

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