Sun, 15 Feb 2015 - 22:00
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Twitter acknowledges it needs to do more about trolls and abuse

This week we saw a very significant statement from Twitter – acknowledging that Twitter needs to do more to combat abuse, trolling and cyberbullying on the platform.

In a company memo, the CEO reportedly put his thoughts quite bluntly: “We suck at dealing with abuse and trolls on the platform and we've sucked at it for years”.

Coming from one of the leading players in the social media space – there are 288 million monthly active users around the world who are on Twitter – this is really important.

I say this as a politician who has had a significant focus in the area of online abuse and cyberbullying, particularly where it involves children, over the past few years. In Opposition, I chaired the Coalition’s Online Safety Working Group.  With a number of colleagues I travelled around the country, visiting schools and talking with children, teachers and parents about these issues. We developed the Coalition’s Policy to Enhance Online Safety for Children, and since coming to government I have led our work in this area as Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Communications. 

Over the past few years, there seems to have been something of a pattern amongst social media platforms. They get started, they grow like crazy, and then, as they become a mass market service, they realise there are a whole range of issues they need to deal with, to meet community expectations about the safety of users.  That includes providing users with tools to report and respond to abuse, and to allow users to block abusive material and those posting it. Over the past few years the major players including Facebook, Google (and its subsidiary YouTube) and Twitter have substantially expanded the number of people they employ who deal with these and related issues (such as liaison with law enforcement; and detecting, removing and reporting child abuse material.) 

In Australia, what we have seen over the past few years is the major US-based social media platforms building a significant base of users locally – but initially having no staff locally with whom, for example, Australian federal and state police can engage. More recently, most of these platforms have employed local staff to deal with regulatory and law enforcement liaison issues – although the bulk of the work is done by teams of people (supported by a lot of technology) in the US or elsewhere in the world. 

In Twitter’s case, as with the other platforms, it certainly does provide tools to combat abuse and cyberbullying on its platform. Twitter has a simple reporting page where you can block abusive Tweeters and report their behaviour to Twitter. I recently put out a quick tip video on how to block and report cyberbullies on Twitter.

But as Twitter’s CEO has acknowledged, they need to do more about trolls and abusive behaviour – indeed he says that Twitter will “start kicking these people off left and right”.

I see this as a welcome example of growing recognition by social media platforms of the nature of their social responsibility.

Let’s see more of it – not least because if the social media platforms take the lead in offering their users a safe environment in which to interact, that will minimise any need for government intervention.