Twitter slays trolls with new feature that blocks threatening, abusive messages

21 Apr 2015

Every troll gets his day and today turns out to be Armageddon on trolls on Twitter as the social network has unveiled a new filter that automatically prevents users from seeing threatening messages.

Twitter is also banning indirect threats of violence and will temporarily suspend accounts that fall foul of its policies.

After controversies like #gamergate brewed up, where female Twitter users were threatened and abused online, Twitter CEO Dick Costolo admitted that Twitter “sucked” at protecting its users and that enough was enough.

“We suck at dealing with abuse and trolls on the platform and we’ve sucked at it for years.

“I’m frankly ashamed of how poorly we’ve dealt with this issue during my tenure as CEO. It’s absurd. There is no excuse for it. I take full responsibility for not being more aggressive on this front.”

Today Costolo is following through on his policy of cracking down on trolls.


Director of product management Shreyas Doshi said that Twitter is updating its violent threats policy so that prohibition isn’t limited to direct, specific threats of violence but also threats or promoting violence against others.

“Our previous policy was unduly narrow and limited our ability to act on certain kinds of threatening behavior,” Doshi said. “The updated language better describes the range of prohibited content and our intention to act when users step over the line into abuse.”

“On the enforcement side, in addition to other actions we already take in response to abuse violations (such as requiring users to delete content or verify their phone number), we’re introducing an additional enforcement option that gives our support team the ability to lock abusive accounts for specific periods of time. This option gives us leverage in a variety of contexts, particularly where multiple users begin harassing a particular person or group of people.”

Doshi said that Twitter has also begun to test a product feature to identify suspected abusive tweets and limit their reach.

“This feature takes into account a wide range of signals and context that frequently correlates with abuse, including the age of the account itself, and the similarity of a tweet to other content that our safety team has in the past independently determined to be abusive.

“It will not affect your ability to see content that you’ve explicitly sought out, such as tweets from accounts you follow, but instead is designed to help us limit the potential harm of abusive content. This feature does not take into account whether the content posted or followed by a user is controversial or unpopular.

“While dedicating more resources towards better responding to abuse reports is necessary and even critical, an equally important priority for us is identifying and limiting the incentives that enable and even encourage some users to engage in abuse. We’ll be monitoring how these changes discourage abuse and how they help ensure the overall health of a platform that encourages everyone’s participation.

“And as the ultimate goal is to ensure that Twitter is a safe place for the widest possible range of perspectives, we will continue to evaluate and update our approach in this critical arena,” Doshi promised.

Troll image via Shutterstock

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years