What’s taking Twitter so long?

Please note this post is from my previous blog. To read my posts during the 2017 General Election campaign click here.

A few weeks ago I chose a case study for an essay I’m writing on how organisations should communicate in crisis situations.  I should have waited a few weeks.  Twitter’s disastrous handling of the vile trolling of banknote campaigner Caroline Criado-Perez is a lesson in how not to do it.

The hateful messages that Criado-Perez received sparked an angry backlash from Twitter users, demanding the addition of a ‘report abuse’ button for every tweet on the platform.  That was three days ago.  Twitter UK’s first response, from Tony Wang was straightforward but woefully lacking: the company was “testing ways to simplify reporting” of abuse.

Twitter’s dilemma is obvious.  Rory Cellan-Jones summed it up – adding an abuse button next to every tweet would require an army of Twitter HQ-types to evaluate the reports.  Good for the employment figures, bad for business.

But the truth is, Twitter had already accepted the need for a “report abuse” button – not least by the fact that it has already put one on in its latest iPhone app.  In Monday’s “We hear you” blog post , the company seemingly went further in what was then reported as it’s ‘bowing to pressure’ to expand this facility to other platforms.  Why put themselves through this when they had already accepted the principle?

A crisis happens when an organisation’s behaviour falls short of interest parties’ expectations – and in Twitter’s case, thanks to its runaway success at installing itself as a new and highly popular channel for public conversation, we are all interested parties.  I imagine most people’s expectations are not that different from mine – immediate action, and innovation.

The company should have held its hands up on Saturday, told us that it knew it had a responsibility to do more to protect users from abuse, and announce an immediate expansion of its existing report abuse button to all platforms.  Instead, it had three days of petitions and criticism, from ordinary Twitter users up to front line politicians.

Martin Belam blogs today that this ‘isn’t a technology problem, it’s a misogyny problem’.  Surely it’s both?  Society has a responsibility to take action to protect individuals from threats – a responsibility that through the police arrests in this case, we are collectively carrying out.  But platforms like Twitter, who are happy to reap the rewards of their becoming a key part of society’s communications infrastructure, share that responsibility too.  They are the ones who are changing the world, after all.

There are those who are today suggesting a report abuse button isn’t necessarily the best technological solution to the problem.  That might be so.  But we’re often hearing about those smart, creative, silicon roundabout type people over at Twitter HQ.  Innovation is nothing new to them.  They should get their heads together and come up with something, fast.

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