Up Front by Emma Hart

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Up Front: Everyone is Wrong. And Right. Whatever.

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  • Russell Brown, in reply to Deborah,

    But it’s worth noting that twitter doesn’t make a profit, employing a bunch of people to clean up the service they provide from the worst is yet another cost on a business that doesn’t turn a profit.

    Then perhaps it’s not a viable business.

    I think implying it should shut down is even less useful than calling for it to be paid-only. It's not going to happen. But I don't see what's to stop a clearly-written policy being applied in a similar way to its spam-reporting functions.

    It'll have to be very clear and focused on threat rather than language. I don't think distant third-parties parsing abusive language is necessarily going to work out well.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22756 posts Report Reply

  • Craig Ranapia, in reply to Rich of Observationz,

    But would terminating the abuser’s account have any effect – if people are that nasty, won’t they just recreate another one, and use an untraceable IP to boot?

    That strikes me as putting the emphasis on the wrong end of the transaction. How about putting the weight on the abused not being subject to threats of physical assault, rape and being harassed with hardcore pornography right fucking now. And believe it or not, not every misog-troll is some techno-wizard. They're sad little gits who shit on uppity women because they can, because they're never had to face any cost or consequences.

    North Shore, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 12370 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown,

    On different views of language ... Moran herself is now apologising for every language crime she's ever committed on Twitter including using the the words "tranny", "retard and "spazz".

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22756 posts Report Reply

  • Craig Ranapia, in reply to Russell Brown,

    It’ll have to be very clear and focused on threat rather than language. I don’t think distant third-parties parsing abusive language is necessarily going to work out well.

    I take your point, Russell and it's a fair one. OTOH, telling someone on Twitter they're an uptight cunt who deserves to go get raped? Well, the "threat" might be pretty abstract, but I don't think it required Talmudic scholarship to say "yeah, nah, you're not doing that here, boyo."

    North Shore, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 12370 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown, in reply to Craig Ranapia,

    I take your point, Russell and it’s a fair one. OTOH, telling someone on Twitter they’re an uptight cunt who deserves to go get raped?

    You're right, of course. And in the end, the problem isn't one company's processes, but the legion of men who do this. It's six years since we discussed the call for a bloggers' code of conduct after Kathy Sierra's appalling experience, and only five months since Adria Richards was -- and I cannot work this out -- fired after receiving hideous threats and abuse.

    Women who work in the free software community are well used to this kind of conduct too. It's often minimised as "trolling". It's all very well chuckle about 4Chan, but the source of Anonymous is also the source of a lot of this shit.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22756 posts Report Reply

  • Emma Hart, in reply to Russell Brown,

    It’ll have to be very clear and focused on threat rather than language. I don’t think distant third-parties parsing abusive language is necessarily going to work out well.

    Absolutely. The difference between abuse and the kind of conversation a lot of us might have with our closest friends is not vocabulary. And while I'm adamant Twitter should be adopting an active Let's Not Be a Whole Bag of Dicks policy, I'm also adamant that the bar for action should be high.

    (Though also I am concerned about the other, probably more common, form of internet abuse, where each individual comment is below that threshold, but there are dozens of them, every day. A "report this tweet" button doesn't work so well for that.)

    Christchurch • Since Nov 2006 • 4650 posts Report Reply

  • Bart Janssen, in reply to Emma Hart,

    I’m also adamant that the bar for action should be high

    Yes but some of the comments were so far above the bar The Hubble 'scope would have trouble imaging them. What caused the service desk to fail to identify them as bad? Sadly my guess is that the corporate culture of Twitter is ... um ... lacking.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 4451 posts Report Reply

  • Danielle, in reply to Bart Janssen,

    the corporate culture of Twitter is … um … lacking

    Isn't it more that the culture of the internet in general (with a few exceptions) is lacking? I mean, any comments section anywhere (I know, I know, never read the comments) is absolutely rife with "I'd hit that" and "feminazi" and yadda yadda yadda. It's all one big continuum of Shut Up Ladies, Or If You Must Speak, Do It At Essential Mums.

    Charo World. Cuchi-cuchi!… • Since Nov 2006 • 3828 posts Report Reply

  • Lilith __,

    Does anyone know what the process is for Twitter accounts reported for spam? I'm assuming there's some checking done before deleting an account, but perhaps it's fully automated?

    Dunedin • Since Jul 2010 • 3887 posts Report Reply

  • Emma Hart, in reply to Lilith __,

    Does anyone know what the process is for Twitter accounts reported for spam? I’m assuming there’s some checking done before deleting an account, but perhaps it’s fully automated?

    Accounts are suspended on a purely automated basis. The account holder can then complain and get the suspension removed. So for instance I know of a couple of cases where "pro-lifers" organised "report for spam" campaigns against people who'd made pro-choice statements on Twitter

    Christchurch • Since Nov 2006 • 4650 posts Report Reply

  • Deborah, in reply to Russell Brown,

    I think implying it should shut down is even less useful than calling for it to be paid-only.

    It never occurred to me that the answer was to shut it down. I think the business model as it exists may not be viable, if they can't pay people enough to moderate it.

    We get plenty of business people who say that they can't recruit staff, but when you look into it, it turns out that they're not prepared to pay enough to attract staff. So maybe they need to look at their business model. Perhaps if cash is the problem, they need to look at other ways of remunerating their staff. Things like flexi time, or on-the-job training, or more autonomy for staff, or more openness about the financial affairs of the business so that staff can see where savings can be made, or a commitment to increase wages when certain turnover is reached. Whatever.

    Likewise, if Twitter can't operate a decent service because it can't moderate tweets effectively, then it needs to look at its business model. There's a whole lot of ways of doing that, including doing exactly what some of the commenters here have suggested, such as empowering junior staff to make moderation decisions, or creating algorithms so that the abuse-report button doesn't get misused. I dunno, something like if a person gets reported for abuse and gets investigated, and it turns out there's absolutely nothing wrong with her or his tweets (however you judge that), then she or he gets an automatic protection for a certain period of time, and the complainant gets dumped instead.

    New Lynn • Since Nov 2006 • 1445 posts Report Reply

  • Lilith __, in reply to Emma Hart,

    Accounts are suspended on a purely automated basis. The account holder can then complain and get the suspension removed.

    I assume suspension freezes the account, so the user can't just delete the evidence?

    Dunedin • Since Jul 2010 • 3887 posts Report Reply

  • Rich of Observationz, in reply to Deborah,

    Algorithms that would be able to tell whether a message:

    "bomb warning on somewhere street, don't go down there"

    Is a threat, or helpful information (some places get a lot of bomb warnings, like London in the 90's).

    Back in Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 5550 posts Report Reply

  • Emma Hart, in reply to Lilith __,

    I assume suspension freezes the account, so the user can’t just delete the evidence?

    Yes, it does. However. I raise my eyebrow very high indeed at Twitter's assertion that they can't see a deleted tweet. That's either a lie or an extraordinarily poor decision.

    Christchurch • Since Nov 2006 • 4650 posts Report Reply

  • Lilith __, in reply to Emma Hart,

    I raise my eyebrow very high indeed at Twitter’s assertion that they can’t see a deleted tweet. That’s either a lie or an extraordinarily poor decision.

    Agreed. And that’s what they say. I RTed the original threat to preserve it, but Twitter still didn't care.

    What DID happen was a whole bunch of my tweeps rushed to assist. That was nice. Community is powerful.

    Dunedin • Since Jul 2010 • 3887 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown, in reply to Deborah,

    Likewise, if Twitter can’t operate a decent service because it can’t moderate tweets effectively, then it needs to look at its business model.

    To be fair, Twitter runs an amazing service, and none of its competitors -- the IM services, Tumblr, Blogger, Google+, Facebook, etc -- do that level of moderation. I'm very sure the overwhelming majority of users would rather have Twitter with the current level of moderation than not have it at all.

    But as you say ...

    There’s a whole lot of ways of doing that, including doing exactly what some of the commenters here have suggested, such as empowering junior staff to make moderation decisions, or creating algorithms so that the abuse-report button doesn’t get misused. I dunno, something like if a person gets reported for abuse and gets investigated, and it turns out there’s absolutely nothing wrong with her or his tweets (however you judge that), then she or he gets an automatic protection for a certain period of time, and the complainant gets dumped instead.

    Maybe. I'd still be wary of any kind of automatic dumping at all. It's extremely likely that the majority of reporting disputes would not be clear-cut and would involve sincerely-held contrary views. And in the US, it's pretty much a given that someone who gets dumped in that way will try and sue Twitter.

    I'm not trying t be negative or deny the problem -- it's painfully obvious there's a problem -- but it does seem really difficult. And whatever you do with Twitter won't fix the internet, or fix the nasty, cowardly ways people behave at their keyboards.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22756 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown, in reply to Lilith __,

    What DID happen was a whole bunch of my tweeps rushed to assist. That was nice. Community is powerful.

    That's great. In the end, community sanction may be more powerful than anything else.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22756 posts Report Reply

  • Chris Waugh, in reply to Russell Brown,

    I’d still be wary of any kind of automatic dumping at all.

    Me too, but I'm not sure that's what Deborah suggested. I'd've thought a "report abuse" button at the bottom of each tweet and algorithms that flag suspicious tweets, with both alerting a moderator who makes the call. And records kept so that repeat abusers and repeat abusers of the report buttons face punishments ranging from tight moderation (everything they post gets flagged for moderation) through suspension to deletion of account.

    That’s great. In the end, community sanction may be more powerful than anything else.

    Funny, that's how I thought this place worked. Could it scale up to Twitter, though?

    Wellington • Since Jan 2007 • 2401 posts Report Reply

  • Chris Waugh,

    As for the Twitter business model, isn't the obvious solution a, ummm, whatchacallit, freemium model? Basic service for free, companies and organisations have to pay for official accounts, and all users offered packages with extra cool toys and doohickeys if they want to pay?

    I dunno, haven't looked at Twitter for ages. It's one of those things that when it got blocked I just shrugged and moved on. I liked it, but not enough to bother jumping the GFW. I'm @southofthemill, if anybody wants to see if one of the world's more dormant Twitter accounts still exists (I s'pose they may have deleted it for prolonged inactivity).

    Wellington • Since Jan 2007 • 2401 posts Report Reply

  • David Hood, in reply to Emma Hart,

    Yes, it does. However. I raise my eyebrow very high indeed at Twitter's assertion that they can't see a deleted tweet.

    Twitter seems to be very, very heavily optimized at the distribution of tweets (and deletions are a tweet saying "delete this tweet" to the various tweet servers) I could believe they have no easy, reliable way of bringing back tweets as the emphasis is not on archiving, though I suppose they could ask the NSA.

    Dunedin • Since May 2007 • 1445 posts Report Reply

  • Lilith __, in reply to Russell Brown,

    I’d still be wary of any kind of automatic dumping at all. It’s extremely likely that the majority of reporting disputes would not be clear-cut and would involve sincerely-held contrary views. And in the US, it’s pretty much a given that someone who gets dumped in that way will try and sue Twitter.

    As Emma said upthread, everything that applies to a “report abuse” button also applies to the “report spam” button we already have. And we are getting the “report abuse” button, rolling out to the iOS app first and then to Android and the website next month . So we’ll see how that goes. I think it'll make a big difference.

    Dunedin • Since Jul 2010 • 3887 posts Report Reply

  • Emma Hart, in reply to Chris Waugh,

    Funny, that’s how I thought this place worked. Could it scale up to Twitter, though?

    IMO, no. Because Twitter is too big and too diffuse to be a coherent community.

    I think it’ll make a big difference.

    I... yeah. I think they need to do it. I don't think it'll make a big difference to Twitter as a whole. But it will make a difference to the people who need to use it, as long as Twitter manages it properly.

    Christchurch • Since Nov 2006 • 4650 posts Report Reply

  • Lilith __,

    I think there are some very interesting issues just under the surface here, about equality of access and rights to free speech. Most people think moderation and/or banning on a website is the same as censorship. But websites aren't actually public places any more than shopping malls are: the real estate is privately owned and the owners can impose any condition on entry that they choose.

    But we have this situation where services like Twitter and FB have become so powerful in terms of their reach that we use them as we would a public space, and we expect certain things from them as of right.

    Has anyone ever successfully sued a website for moderating or banning? Is such an action even possible?

    Dunedin • Since Jul 2010 • 3887 posts Report Reply

  • Lilith __,

    Reading this account of a sexologist outing a troll , I wondered how many zillion hours of work one twatcock can generate. And especially when they're creepy and revolting but not quite personally threatening.

    Dunedin • Since Jul 2010 • 3887 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown, in reply to Lilith __,

    I think there are some very interesting issues just under the surface here, about equality of access and rights to free speech. Most people think moderation and/or banning on a website is the same as censorship. But websites aren’t actually public places any more than shopping malls are: the real estate is privately owned and the owners can impose any condition on entry that they choose.

    I've had this argument a few times, and yes, this is my place and I decide what goes. Absolutely.

    But Twitter is less a website than a communications service, via which 200 million active users send 400 million tweets a day. Yes, it does a reasonable job these days of handling spam reports (and I think a human does see every one one of those), but spam can be weeded with some fairly simple rules and and up-to-date corpus of spammy tweets. Twitter is full of user-created spaces with their own standards and vernaculars, none of which can be parsed at a glance.

    I agree with Emma: Twitter must work harder on abuse, but the bar for sanctions will have to be high, and we shouldn't expect miracles.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22756 posts Report Reply

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