Twitter’s Anti-Abuse Filter Is Finally Available to All

After years of abuse reports, Twitter's "quality filter" will help users avoid spam, threat and offensive language.

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Aug 18 2016, 7:35pm

Noisy miner birds. Image: Mdk572/Wikipedia

In my seven years on Twitter, about four of them active, I have been subjected to sexism, racism, threatening language, and cyberstalking. And I'm hardly an exception to what millions of users experience while trying to have an otherwise delightful and informative day. But for almost a decade, Twitter has refused to get involved in any sort of meaningful way.

Until today. The social media giant finally introduced full public access to the quality filter, a hopeful step in curbing persistent online abuse. The filter, which had been rolled out to some verified users last year, can screen for spam bots, offensive language, and duplicate accounts. And journalist Caitlin Dewey reported that it works pretty well—blocking out trolls and users threatening to kill her. (It was also able to discern between a news story talking about rape and let that reach her feed.)

Twitter has been fielding reports of abuse for years, but has failed to take any comprehensive steps. Back in 2008, company cofounder Biz Stone responded to Ariel Waldman's public complaint about abuse with a defense of the platform. He claimed, "Twitter is a communication utility, not a mediator of content."

It's clear the abuse disproportionately impacts women. In a report from the Women, Action & the Media, an advocacy group, 27 percent of women surveyed said they experienced hate speech, 22 percent said they were doxxed, and 12 percent received threats of violence. Our abusive online world was enough to make Guardian columnist Jessica Valenti leave Twitter when she received threats of rape and violence to her five-year-old daughter. But it's not only women who deal with abuse on Twitter. Earlier this year, New York Times editor Jon Weisman discontinued his account, partly due to "anti-semitic trolls".

Twitter has been fielding reports of abuse for years, but has failed to take any comprehensive steps.

This kind of lethargic reaction isn't completely surprising given that Twitter's leadership is mostly male and white, not the kind of people who are most vulnerable to threats and abuse on Twitter. But we had an inkling something might break them soon—as my colleague, Derek Mead, pointed out, Twitter finally blocked the popular alt-right provocateur Milo Yiannopolous for harassing actress Leslie Jones earlier this year.

While Twitter's new quality filter could improve our experience on the platform, chances are it won't end abuse and trolling altogether. Because while it will limit threats and hate speech, the fact remains that Twitter has never dealt with direct complaints of abuse very well, and has yet to prove that it will rise up to the challenge when the quality filter falls short. Since online culture has yet to change, that day, or second, is inevitable.