Twitter Will Now Let You ‘Mute’ Hate Speech

Twitter just introduced a number of new features to combat online abuse. One tool lets you mute certain words, phrases, usernames, emojis or hashtags.

For years, Twitter has been criticized for not doing enough to fight the rampant hate speech on their platform. Especially, during this presidential election, we have seen thousands of attacks by trolls using racist or anti-Semitic language.

In October, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) released a report showing the scope of unprecedented online harassment Jews - and especially Jewish journalists – have been facing on Twitter.

Now, a week after the election, Twitter is rolling out a number of features to curb abusive online behavior.

“Abusive conduct removes the chance to see and share all perspectives around an issue, which we believe is critical to moving us all forward,” Twitter wrote in a blog post promoting the new mute feature. “In the worst cases, this type of conduct threatens human dignity, which we should all stand together to protect.”

To mute words, simply go to your settings and add them in the new “Muted Words” section. After that, you won’t get any notifications for Tweets that include these words. (Watch the video below for a more detailed description.)

The mute tool was reportedly a long time in the making.

Steven Freeman, the ADL Deputy Director of Policy and Programs, sees the new features as a step in the right direction by Twitter. “One of the most important things it reflects is an understanding that they have to do something,” he told the Forward. “They are aware of the issues.”

The ADL is part of Twitter’s Trust and Safety Council and has been advising the tech company over the last months.

The new feature lets you mute any word. Don’t like pancakes — or liberal politics? You don’t need to ever read about them again. All the muted words will still appear in search results though.

The ADL’s Freeman believes that the danger of “the personal chilling effect” and “the emotional impact” that seeing abusive tweets can have on people, outweighs concerns that Twitter trolls themselves might use the feature.

“I suppose, for people who share extreme views, it might reinforce that in a way, but I think that their [Twitter’s] primary concern has not been them, but the people who are absused. It makes sense that that victims should be their priority,” he said.

Muting hateful words and tweets is one thing, but not seeing them doesn’t mean they are not there. So Twitter is also expanding their ways to report hateful tweets.

They added a new category in their reporting process that lets you flag a tweet that targets people on the basis of race, ethnicity, national origin, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, religious affiliation, age, disability, or disease.

Previously, a tweet had to be directed at an individual person and not just a general group of people. Additionally, Twitter now encourages bystanders to report abusive content. In the past, you could only report tweets involving yourself.

“This will improve our ability to process these reports, which helps reduce the burden on the person experiencing the abuse, and helps to strengthen a culture of collective support,” Twitter wrote in their blog.

The tech company also says that they have retrained their staff to better respond to reports of hate speech, including special sessions focusing on “cultural and historical contextualization of hateful conduct.”

Twitter also suspended the accounts of several prominent ‘alt-right’ members on November 15.

The ADL will release a second part of their report – including their own recommendations for Twitter – in the following days. They seem optimistic that Twitter will continue to work with them on this issue.

“They have been very receptive to our suggestions and imput. We have an open line of communication with them,” Freeman told the Forward.

Lilly Maier is a news intern at the Forward. Reach her at maier@forward.com or on Twitter at @lillymmaier

Author

Lilly Maier

Lilly Maier

Lilly Maier is a news intern at the Forward. She is a graduate journalism student at New York University, where she studies as a Fulbright scholar. She also holds a B.A. in Jewish history from the University of Munich.
Contact Lilly at maier@forward.com, read her portfolio, or follow her on Twitter.

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