Twitter Takes a Step Toward Being Less Horrible

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As fun and entertaining and informative as it can be, Twitter, Science of Us has repeatedly noted, can also be terrible. Certain aspects of its design make it an easily wielded hate-cudgel for some of the internet’s most despicable and/or enthusiastically misinformed denizens. Late yesterday, though, the Verge reported that the site is taking at least a baby step in the right direction — though it remains to be seen whether it will lead to any lasting changes.

The site reports:

Amid heightened scrutiny of the way social networks enable the harassment of women online, Twitter said it is working with an advocacy group to investigate reports of abuse. A group called Women, Action, and the Media, which advocates for better representation of women, is testing a new reporting process for gender-based harassment. The group developed a tool for reporting harassment and will forward confirmed reports to Twitter. “If it checks out, we’ll escalate it to Twitter right away (24 hours max, hopefully much less than that) and work to get you a speedy resolution,” says the group, which abbreviates itself as WAM. “But please note: we’re not Twitter, and we can’t make decisions for them.”

That last quote is key, and it highlights the fact that there are two ways to look at this. One is that it’s good that Twitter, in the wake of what the Verge calls “high-profile threats against game critic Anita Sarkeesian and other women” working in the gaming world, is working with an outside organization to potentially beef up its very ineffective harassment-reporting tools. The other, more cynical response is that this could be a useful way for Twitter to make it look like it’s doing something about online harassment without actually doing very much at all. After all, given Twitter’s massive resources, why should it need to outsource this job to someone else?

WAM seems happy that it has been brought onboard, for what it’s worth, so we’ll see if this ends up nudging things in the right direction. In the meantime, Twitter can still be a pretty nasty place — particularly for women who write about certain issues.