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Twitter Expands Ways to Curb Abuse and Harassment, making it Easier to Report such Conduct

Twitter has been trying to get a handle on its Wild West reputation as a haven for online harassment and abuse while still holding onto its commitment to free speech

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FILE - The Twitter symbol appears above a trading post on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, July 27, 2016. Twitter, long criticized as a hotbed for online harassment, is expanding ways to curb the amount of abuse users see and making it easier to report such conduct. VOA

Twitter, long criticized as a hotbed for online harassment, is expanding ways to curb the amount of abuse users see and making it easier to report such conduct.

Twitter said Tuesday that it is expanding a “mute” function that lets people mute accounts they don’t want to see tweets from. Now, users will be able to mute keywords, phrases and conversations they don’t want to get notifications about. Users who decide to mute things won’t see them.

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The words, phrases and conversations will continue to exist on Twitter, and anyone who doesn’t mute them will continue to see them. But the company is also making it easier to report hateful conduct, and said it has re-trained its support teams about its policies and hateful conduct.

Policy is not enough

Abuse can easily spread on Twitter due to its public, real-time nature, where tweets are easily amplified by retweets and users can easily and openly attack others. While Twitter prohibits “specific conduct that targets people on the basis of race, ethnicity, national origin, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, religious affiliation, age, disability, or disease,” this policy has not been enough to stomp out abuse.

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Not even celebrities are immune. Over the summer, “Ghostbusters” star Leslie Jones publicly abandoned Twitter after becoming the target of sexist and racist abuse on the service. She has since returned.

Committed to free speech

Twitter has been trying to get a handle on its Wild West reputation as a haven for online harassment and abuse while still holding onto its commitment to free speech. It’s been tricky, to say the least.

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“We don’t expect these announcements to suddenly remove abusive conduct from Twitter,” Twitter Inc. said in a blog post. “No single action by us would do that. Instead we commit to rapidly improving Twitter based on everything we observe and learn.” (VOA)

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Female Journalists Face Online, Workplace Harassment

At a recent Global Conference for Media Freedom in London, a panel discussed some of those threats and why it's important to find solutions

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A screen at the Global Conference for Media Freedom shows tweets by female journalists about the dangers they face on the job. VOA

The number of journalists killed in 2018 because of their work nearly doubled compared to 2017, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. In all, 88 journalists and media workers died on the job, because they were targeted for their reporting or were working in hazardous environments.

Female journalists face the same dangers as their male counterparts when working on an assignment; but, women journalists face other threats that don’t affect men to nearly the same degree.

At a recent Global Conference for Media Freedom in London, a panel discussed some of those threats and why it’s important to find solutions.

Nadine Hoffman, deputy director of the International Women’s Media Foundation, said that in a survey of 600 female journalists last year, more than two-thirds said they had experienced online harassment. She said those attacks are often sexual and misogynistic in nature.

“If you’re a woman and you assert yourself in the online space, men will attack you,” Hoffman said, noting that female politicians often experience the same kind of harassment.

female journalists
FILE – Lebanese protesters carry posters of prominent anti-Syrian news anchor May Chidiac, who was seriously wounded by a car bomb, during a sit-in at Martyrs square in Beirut, Sept. 26, 2005. VOA

‘There must be laws’

May Chidiac, the Lebanese minister of state for administrative development, survived a 2005 car bombing while she worked as a television journalist. The assassination attempt was part of a series of bombings targeting journalists and politicians who were critical of Syria.

Chidiac said that online harassment is a serious threat to women. She said more must be done to protect journalists targeted by those attacks and to prosecute the perpetrators.

“Personally, I never considered myself different from a male journalist,” she said. “But when it comes to online harassment, believe me, there is a big difference between men and women.”

She said in addition to sending vulgar material and comments, critics sometimes publicly post personal details, like a woman’s address or telephone number — an attack called “doxing” — putting her personal safety at risk.

“These are things that must not go unpunished,” she said. “There must be laws to, in one way or another, protect women from such aggression and harassment.”

harassment, female journalists
Hoffman said that it’s important to not dismiss such harassment as a workplace or human resources issue. Instead, she said it must be treated as a safety issue. Wikimedia Commons

Harassment by colleagues

Hoffman noted that one-third of the 2018 survey respondents said they considered leaving their newsroom because of such harassment. She added that another threat to women comes from within newsrooms: sexual harassment by colleagues.

Hoffman said that it’s important to not dismiss such harassment as a workplace or human resources issue. Instead, she said it must be treated as a safety issue.

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Hoffman said these threats are not taken as seriously as the dangers of reporting from hazardous locations or being targeted because of coverage of an organization or issue. But she warned that if these issues are not addressed, the impact goes beyond the individuals who leave the industry out of frustration or concern for their safety.

“Sexual harassment is a safety issue,” she said. “Online harassment does have offline implications,” she added. “Without women’s voices, we cannot have truly democratic societies and a free press.” (VOA)