Twitter Cracks Down on Abusive Tweets Ahead of UK Boycott

August 4, 2013 Updated: August 4, 2013

Twitter has added a “report abuse” button within tweets, the company announced Saturday ahead of a planned boycott of Twitter in the UK on Sunday.

Caroline Criado-Perez, a freelance journalist, received a barrage of abuse and even rape threats on her Twitter account after heading a campaign to keep female icons on British banknotes. She contacted Mark Luckie, manager of journalism and news on Twitter to elicit a response, but to no avail.

A petition called on Twitter to add a “report abuse” button and other features to stem abusive behavior experienced by many users. A phenomenon known as “trolling” has become common, with women receiving tweets that constitute sexual harassment. The petition got about 127,000 supporters.

Many UK users were also planning a day-long boycott of Twitter on Sunday.

Twitter’s UK general manager, Tony Wang, said in a series of tweets on Saturday: “I personally apologize to the women who have experienced abuse on Twitter and for what they have gone through. The abuse they’ve received is simply not acceptable. It’s not acceptable in the real world, and it’s not acceptable on Twitter.

“There is more we can and will be doing to protect our users against abuse. That is our commitment.”

On Sunday, he answered a plethora of user questions via Twitter and explained that the new Twitter anti-abuse measures are meant to help all, not only women subject to trolling.

Now, instead of having to file an abuse report through the help center, Twitter users can use a simple and easily accessible in-tweet report button introduced in the latest version of the iOS Twitter app and on the mobile web.

Twitter added stipulations in its rules to make it clearer that abuse will not be tolerated. The company will be hiring more staff to process the complaints and will work closely with the UK Safer Internet Center.

Luckie, whom Criado-Perez contacted to act on the abuse, had not tweeted about it as of Sunday morning. His last tweet was on August 2.

Criado-Perez tweeted Saturday: “Thanks for your apology @TonyW [Tony Wang], much appreciated.”

Zarina Holmes, a Twitter user who is a photographer and editor, tweeted Sunday: “@TonyW Those are really kind words,Tony. But to be honest it’s the users responsibility to have manners and behave like adults.”

Wang replied: “@ZarinaHolmes agreed, we can’t decide what users do but we can improve our platform.”

Tech journalist Quinn Norton told the BBC that shareable block lists and more social engagement are the keys to combating the abuse problem. The block lists would help users marginalize the trolls and other abusers on a wide scale.

Norton said: “Fundamentally, you can’t solve social problems with technology. They don’t address the fundamental problem of men who attack women. And the problem with a report button is that it turns abuse into spam. And spam doesn’t go away because there’s more spam reported.”