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24 March 2015

Twitter gives (a few) users a new filter to block abuse

The social network's giving its "elite" users more control over whose tweets they have to pay attention to.

By Ian Steadman

In February, Twitter CEO Dick Costolo admitted it was no longer possible to ignore his company’s open secret: “we suck at dealing with abuse and trolls on the platform, and we’ve sucked for years,” he wrote, in an internal forum message obtained by The Verge. He was “ashamed” at how “absurd” it was that things had been allowed to get so bad, he added, in response to an episode of the podcast This American Life where writer Lindy West detailed how one troll created an account to mock her recently deceased father.

This could have been just rhetoric, but in fairness to Costolo and Twitter, there have already been some concrete steps taken to make things a little brighter for those struggling with harassment. The newest feature to be rolled out is a “quality filter”, as a few users have found:

As of now, this is just for verified users of the official Twitter app on iOS, so anyone on a desktop PC (or Android smartphone or tablet) will have to wait. Verified users – a kind of pseudo-elite of celebrities, athletes, corporate brands, journalists and anyone else Twitter deems “highly sought” – already get a few extra options over other users (beyond the “credibility” that the little blue tick supposedly confers), including being able to filter away mentions from people they don’t follow, so it’s not fair to consider this a true solution for harassment just yet. It’s still only a perk for the one per cent, for now.

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Other recent Twitter changes include making it slightly easier to email the police with details of online harassment or threats, and tracking the phone numbers of persistent abusers so that they can’t create new accounts on their smartphones. It’s still easier, however, to report a user account for spam than it is for abuse, which is incredibly annoying and does nothing to convince people that the main incentive here isn’t stopping abuse, it’s making sure you can trust the ads you see.