Twitter, which continues to struggle to find a balance between supporting free speech and empowering bullies and harassment, is planning to introduce new features that will give users control over what they see and whom they interact with, the company announced Aug. 18.
In “the coming days,” Twitter plans to extend Notifications and a Quality Filter to all users—features that currently are only available to “verified” account holders, which are designated with a blue checkmark icon. (There are at least five Bill Clinton Twitter accounts, for example; the one with the blue checkmark is confirmed to be him.)
As of Aug. 18, users have the ability to limit notifications to only people they follow on mobile and Twitter.com. Users can tap the Settings icon and then select Notifications.
“Simply turn it on if you want to give it a go. If not, no worries—your individual Twitter experience will continue unchanged,” said Twitter.
Still in the works is a Quality Filter, which Twitter says it began testing last year and is now in the process of rolling out to everyone.
“When turned on, the filter can improve the quality of Tweets you see by using a variety of signals, such as account origin and behavior,” Twitter explains.
“Turning it on filters lower-quality content, like duplicate Tweets or content that appears to be automated, from your notifications and other parts of your Twitter experience,” it continues.
The filter will not filter content from people you follow or have interacted with recently.
Twitter added that it’s still learning, and will continue to keep improving the product. “What we’re rolling out is just a start,” it wrote.
Algorithms to the Rescue
The new features are a welcome change, even if they are small, tech-based fixes to a large, unwieldy and very human problem.
A BuzzFeed profile recently shone a spotlight on Twitter’s policy of protecting free speech to the point that it “made an ideology out of protecting its most objectionable users,” wrote BuzzFeed’s Charlie Warzel.
The profile followed after two instances of very public women leaving the service, after reaching their personal limits for abuse.
Guardian columnist and author Jessica Valenti put up with years of abuse, but met her limit, she said, the day she woke up to a “rape and death threat” against her 5-year-old daughter.
“I am sick of this … sick of saying over and over how scary this is, sick of being told to suck it up,” Valenti tweeted July 27. “I should not have to fear for my kid’s safety because I write about feminism.”
Actress Leslie Jones, fresh off her success in the movie “Ghostbusters,” met a fire hose of hateful, racist and sexually threatening tweets.
“I leave Twitter tonight with tears and a very sad heart. All this cause I did a movie,” Jones tweeted July 19, after numerous tweets begging Twitter to take action.
Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey later reached out to Jones, and used her experience to ban from Twitter Breitbart Tech editor Milo Yiannopoulos—whose tweets Jones had retweeted, to expose them—for breaking rules against “participating in or inciting targeted abuse of individuals.”
Yiannopoulos responded, “Anyone who cares about free speech has been sent a clear message: you’re not welcome on Twitter.”
Freedom of speech, a value protected by the First Amendment, does not protect abusive language or incitements to take action that will harm people.
Twitter responded to the BuzzFeed article with a brief Aug. 11 blog post, saying it continues to try to make Twitter a safer place.
“There is a lot of work to do,” it added, “but please know we are committed, focused and will have updates to share soon.”