Twitter creates ‘safety council’ in an attempt to curb online harassment

Twitter, the social media platform whose former CEO admitted last year “suck[s] at dealing with abuse,” has announced the creation of a committee aimed at increasing safety on its platform.

The Twitter Trust & Safety Council consists of more than 40 individuals and organizations, including groups that promote cyber safety and support survivors of abuse.

Twitter, like other social media platforms, has long faced the issue of how to combat the use of its technology for harassment, especially in the wake of several highly publicized incidents of abuse.

In an award-winning piece for Pacific Standard, writer Amanda Hess discussed her experience with Twitter users who threatened to rape and kill her along with the difficulty of reporting these threats to police. Last year, writer Lindy West wrote in The Guardian and appeared on This American Life detailing the time a Twitter user created a profile for her recently-deceased father and used it to harass her.

Last February, the Verge reported that a Twitter employee shared the Guardian piece in the company’s internal chat, and then-CEO Dick Costolo responded:

We suck at dealing with abuse and trolls on the platform and we’ve sucked at it for years. It’s no secret and the rest of the world talks about it every day. We lose core user after core user by not addressing simple trolling issues that they face every day.

I’m frankly ashamed of how poorly we’ve dealt with this issue during my tenure as CEO. It’s absurd. There’s no excuse for it. I take full responsibility for not being more aggressive on this front. It’s nobody else’s fault but mine, and it’s embarrassing.

We’re going to start kicking these people off right and left and making sure that when they issue their ridiculous attacks, nobody hears them.

Everybody on the leadership team knows this is vital.

Several domestic violence organizations, including the National Domestic Violence Hotline and the National Network to End Domestic Violence, are members of the council. Feminist Frequency, whose creator Anita Sarkeesian received a brutal barrage of online abuse in 2014 and 2015 from a group that dubbed itself “Gamergate,” is also a member. Those organizations will weigh in on how to keep Twitter users safe as it develops new products, according to the company’s announcement.

Costolo — who resigned in July 2015 and was replaced by Twitter founder Jack Dorsey — had faced questions on the issue before, including in preparation for a July 2014 appearance on CNBC. The network asked Twitter users to submit questions for Costolo, and more than 28 percent of the 8,464 questions it received in response concerned online harassment.

Several studies have examined how online harassment and abuse specifically affects female and LGBT users. According to a 2014 report from the Pew Research Center, women are disproportionately targeted by online sexual harassment and stalking. That same report noted that 25 percent of women ages 18 to 24 had experienced sexual harassment online.

A 2013 study by the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network noted that LGBT youth are also especially vulnerable to online abuse — 42 percent said they had been bulled or harassed online, as opposed to 15 percent of non-LGBT youth.