Robocop 3: Robotweet
April 23, 2015 12:13 AM   Subscribe

After years of grief and demands for improvement and ineffective response on their side(previously, previously, previously, etc), which led to the creation of solutions like GG autoblocker(previously), Twitter has updated their user policy in a fairly significant way. They've also added a system which will attempt to algorithmically identify harassment. Victims of previous online abuse are on board with the concept. The response isn't completely positive, however.
posted by emptythought (47 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
 
Have you ever noticed that Twitter executives prefer to talk about harassment on Twitter just about anywhere except on Twitter?

It's weird. It's like a medium that is effectively based on sound bites is a poor platform for discussing knotty problems with nuanced understanding.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 1:18 AM on April 23, 2015 [31 favorites]


I prefer to imagine it's because they are aware of the scale of the torrent of abuse an account would receive for making these points directly on Twitter.
posted by Dysk at 1:56 AM on April 23, 2015 [9 favorites]


I'm skeptical, because I can't tell if they're just paying lipservice or if this is actually a useful update-- back when they came out to say that they suck at dealing with harassment, it didn't seem to lessen the torrent much when people get targeted. (The GGAutoBlocker, though, seems to really help a lot.)
posted by NoraReed at 2:19 AM on April 23, 2015


The new filter is based on an optional “quality filter” previously made available to verified users...Unlike the quality filter, however, the new feature is automatically on for all users and cannot be turned off.

That's kind of stupid.

The final link explains why a smart policy would actually give users control over whether or not they see abusive tweets:

I’m sure some people would prefer not to see a death threat appear in their feeds, but personally, if some online obsessive is publicly stating his intent to kill me, I’d like to know. That knowledge can empower me to protect myself by barring certain people from my public events, or more carefully screening my emails and calls, or contributing to the pile of evidence I might need to secure a restraining order against a harasser. And besides, Twitter harassment can cause harm even if it never reaches its target. We’re not talking about a threatening tweet falling in the forest here; threats posed in public are specifically designed to stoke communitywide fears and forge solidarity with like-minded abusers.
posted by mediareport at 2:30 AM on April 23, 2015


Leaving aside actual terrorists who planned to kill anyway, is there any documented history of people acting to carry out death threats made on Twitter?

Seems to me the vast majority would be rhetorical bluster, the whole point of which is lost if your target is never aware of the threat.

I hate online abusers, but the concern over "death threats" in particular always strikes me as overstated.
posted by spitbull at 3:43 AM on April 23, 2015 [1 favorite]


Few people enjoy exusting in a climate of fear. Women are usually targets, so it's quite understandable if are wary of any type if threat.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 4:56 AM on April 23, 2015 [8 favorites]


At at glance, it seems that what Twitter is trying to do is a meta version of what Randi Harper did with ggautoblocker -- which is create a tree of people following known abusers and auto blocking.

As to death threats. Yes, occasionally, death threats are real and are attempted to be carried out, and worse, they sometime succeed. But these are lone death threats, not the sort of free-pile-on we see on twitter. Aside: You must report *every* death threat. Every. Single. One. Not just to Twitter (if that's where it happened) but to the local police. You have to.

The cost of gain on twitter is basically none, which is why things like pile ons and sealioning are so annoyingly effective. Just hop onto someone's stream and be a jerk. Yes, you could block/mute, but you had to accept at least one attack before you could know that you needed to block/mute. So, until things like ggautoblocker, the cost of attack vs. cost of defense was badly in favor of attack. Really, the right answer was leave the platform, and I think that was finally beaten in to the head of Twitter's execs -- that when that realization swept through, they were going to be the Mad Max wasteland of Social Media.

I think Twitter took far too long to realize the problem, but I think they've both realized they have a problem, that they have a huge problem, and that they have been very careful to try to find a solution that's not going to destroy the platform. They may not have found the right answer, but they haven't, as far as I can see, found an incredibly wrong one, which is a pretty damn good start. Way too many other places have tried to fix a problem and completely destroyed everything doing so. See the Star Wars Galaxies thread for what happened to SWG when marketing insisted that they drop hints about how to become a Jedi.

Yes, some people will disagree with it. Look at the size of Twitter's user base. If you can make a change that every single person agrees with, then you are either 1) lying, 2) God themself or 3) have mastered mind control. Otherwise, a significant fraction is going to hate it, even if it is a good change that would significantly help the platform. There's no way around that.

So: We will see. If it works, if it reduces the gain assholes get, it'll reduce the enjoyment they get, and perhaps there will be less of them, and we'll need less filtering. Or Twitter will screw up the settings and everybody will get blocked from their followers and BOOM.
posted by eriko at 5:43 AM on April 23, 2015 [5 favorites]


spitbull, please realize that you could say, "I bet 99.9% of these death threats are meaningless bluster," and many of the targets of this harassment would have to respond, "Well, obviously... so I'm only dealing with a handful of potential attempts on my life."

These women realize most death threats are verbal terrorism, not genuine statements of intent. However, that a) does not reduce their traumatic impact, and b) does not eliminate the real possibility that one out of many of these may be serious.

And also, to answer your question: they have in fact resulted in SWATing already, which is arguably attempted murder using police as the weapon.
posted by gilrain at 5:47 AM on April 23, 2015 [25 favorites]


Their central thesis is flawed. The medium is important, but not for the reason they say.

"Have you ever noticed that Twitter executives prefer to talk about harassment on Twitter just about anywhere except on Twitter?"

Yes, because twitter fucking sucks for any real conversation or dialogue. The real secret is that twitter is terrible at this, and the execs know it.

One to many corp nonsense or in joke snark or bullying is the only thing it is actually good for.

And this cannot be explained on twitter.
posted by clvrmnky at 6:13 AM on April 23, 2015


The "twitter execs don't talk about twitter on twitter" thing only appears in the final link and is a side issue (and a kind of silly self-derail on the part of the writer). The deeper question is why Twitter is refusing to give users basic control over a significant new feature. What do Twitter execs think is the downside to allowing users to toggle this feature off?
posted by mediareport at 6:27 AM on April 23, 2015


clvrmnky: "And this cannot be explained on twitter"

“GET OUT OF THE FUCKING CAR TWITTER!”
posted by signal at 6:29 AM on April 23, 2015 [1 favorite]


One to many corp nonsense or in joke snark or bullying is the only thing it is actually good for.

Whenever I read a thread here about Twitter, I am amazed at my good luck to be using some other, better service that has the same name.
posted by asterix at 6:39 AM on April 23, 2015 [11 favorites]


What do Twitter execs think is the downside to allowing users to toggle this feature off?

In the very bit you quoted upthread:

We’re not talking about a threatening tweet falling in the forest here; threats posed in public are specifically designed to stoke communitywide fears and forge solidarity with like-minded abusers.

If abusive tweets are filtered from everyone, abusers can't feed off of each other. Coordinated abuse efforts have to be orchestrated offsite, rather than developing like an angry mob on Twitter itself. I would much rather the angry abusive mobs not happen at all than fester under the surface in a segmented off "unfiltered Twitter" that most users don't see.
posted by almostmanda at 7:10 AM on April 23, 2015 [2 favorites]


I hope it hampers abuse orchestrated offsite as well, as that's been a big factor in GG.
posted by Artw at 7:14 AM on April 23, 2015


I hate online abusers, but the concern over "death threats" in particular always strikes me as overstated.

Spitbull, if you have a device or algorithm that, with 100% guarantees correct identification of which death threats are real, legit, valid ones, and which ones are not, I'd think you'd stand to make a killing on the market for a service like that.

If you don't, this concern over how overstated or not a death threat from a multitude of unfamiliar sources maybe strikes me as completely misplaced.
posted by qcubed at 7:17 AM on April 23, 2015 [2 favorites]


Whenever I read a thread here about Twitter, I am amazed at my good luck to be using some other, better service that has the same name.

Yup. I get a lot out of it and not just cat pictures and snark, though those are good too.

The Twitter execs probably DM each other.
posted by Artw at 7:18 AM on April 23, 2015 [1 favorite]


I sure wish I could live in the alternate universe where social media are supported by something other than ad revenue and are developed entirely to serve the users' interests. In that world, there's a version of Twitter where you only ever see tweets and replies by people you're actively following.

How hard would it be to make a Twitter app that discarded everything not sent by someone you follow?
posted by straight at 8:05 AM on April 23, 2015


almostmanda: "If abusive tweets are filtered from everyone, abusers can't feed off of each other."

Yes, but from what I can make out from the short Twitter blog entry, that's not quite what they're doing. They're implementing a system with multiple levels of severity, the highest being bannination, but the lowest being "allowing people to say somewhat abusive things, but only showing them to their followers". Which means if you're an asshole with a ton of followers, with the new system you can be abusive and have thousands of other assholes see your abusive comments, but the victims wouldn't be able to unless they started following the main asshole.
posted by Bugbread at 8:17 AM on April 23, 2015


I hate online abusers, but the concern over "death threats" in particular always strikes me as overstated

You would think so but back around 2002 some dofus on Usenet threatened to report to me to Homeland security for comments in a basketball forum. I dimissed it as bluster but a decade later applying for a green card I felt a little bit of concern about whether that would come up. So a mostly likely idle threat from a blowhard still had a psychic impact 10 years later. And that was just one idiot.

This is why I believe threats of violence are actual violence.
posted by srboisvert at 8:28 AM on April 23, 2015 [9 favorites]


This is why I believe threats of violence are actual violence.

Huh, my first reaction was more along the lines with spitbull. But, now that I think about it...

The perception of the threat probably has a lot to do with your sense of your own power. Those who are most often threatened are also those who have the least power. Then everything is serious. And threatened violence is violence.
posted by ghostiger at 10:35 AM on April 23, 2015 [1 favorite]


Sigh, I knew that even posting that question was going to invite reductionist and patronizing responses.

I am not minimizing death threats. I'm wondering what the best way to counter them in a world of limited resources might be.
posted by spitbull at 10:57 AM on April 23, 2015


Meaning to be clear that if the entire NYPD anti-terrorism task force could swoop in on every asshole who ever makes a death threat online and throw his ass in Guantanamo indefinitely, I'd be for that. But otherwise, making it impossible for a potential threatener to even reach his victim with words sounds worth the tradeoff of the victim not knowing about specific death threats, and like it would discourage a lot of trolls from bothering, like the $5 signup fee does here. But if an algorithm could somehow flag more violent language or longer histories of abuse for human-mediated followup, that would be something.
posted by spitbull at 11:00 AM on April 23, 2015


Or how about an opt in: "Would you like to be informed of any physical threats against you detected by our algorithm?" Check for opt in.
posted by spitbull at 11:02 AM on April 23, 2015


I am not minimizing death threats.

FWIW, if you don't want people to think you're minimizing death threats, you might consider not saying things like "the concern over "death threats" in particular always strikes me as overstated."
posted by asterix at 11:04 AM on April 23, 2015 [14 favorites]


"Death threats" and "rape threats" are often focused on because any other harassment people (esp. women) bring up invites questions about what they did to provoke it, why can't they just ignore it, don't feed the trolls, etc. They are used because they signal "No, it really is that bad" in a conversation that otherwise results in being told to toughen up. It's not because death and rape threats are the majority of or worst of internet harassment--they're just the least excusable.
posted by almostmanda at 11:08 AM on April 23, 2015 [1 favorite]


One to many corp nonsense or in joke snark or bullying is the only thing it is actually good for.
posted by clvrmnky at 8:13 AM on April 23


Also sharing and discussing interesting articles, which is mostly what I use it for. And networking through hashtags. And reading hilarious stuff like Honest Toddler and Chaucer Doth Tweet and Nihilist Arby's.
posted by joannemerriam at 11:25 AM on April 23, 2015


Whenever I read a thread here about Twitter, I am amazed at my good luck to be using some other, better service that has the same name.

Same. It's the only social network I've ever had half-decent conversations on. Making a big deal about the character limit has always seemed equivalent to complaining about your typical face-to-face conversation because people aren't orating at length.
posted by brundlefly at 2:06 PM on April 23, 2015 [1 favorite]


Also, what joannemerriam said. Twitter is a great source of interesting links (depending on who you're following).
posted by brundlefly at 2:07 PM on April 23, 2015


spitbull: "Leaving aside actual terrorists who planned to kill anyway, is there any documented history of people acting to carry out death threats made on Twitter?"

Well...

There was This incident. This individual was going to race Brianna Wu, because he had to prove he's tough or something? And so driving to her house (to race? WTF? like , this was just something HE was going to do, it wasn't some sort of formal event, AFAIU) and it was his mom's car and he crashed it and then he freaks out.

So yeah. Was this individual just going to "race" was he going to do something more serious (she had a motorcycle she recently posted, which I believe this was in reference to); she was concerned this was an attempt on her life. Whether it was or not, this individual is clearly in need of help. The forum I saw this on, they were basically goading on his mental illness/lack of control. Anyways, there may not have been any actual acts that we know of, but that doesn't matter, ultimately, the threats are wrong, they are persistent, they are targeted, and they are done by a number of individuals, so it all adds up...

It's not just "threats on Twitter" it's across the spectrum - Twitter is merely one forum of many where this action takes place - witness various video gaming sites (blogs, forums, magazines), reddit, etc... Twitter is an easily identifiable place and since it has so many users and rapid fire spreading of content, it makes it that much more vociferous when it comes to the threats. Same with reddit... I can't comment on more dedicated forums, though I would think/hope those are less severe, since there is more of a community aspect and it's not separated into subcommunities like subreddits, generally. Also - good communities have good mods (right, mefites?!) Anyways, the point being, Twitter is a focal point, but it's not the only place this goes on.

It's what one could call "Full Spectrum Harrassment"
posted by symbioid at 2:38 PM on April 23, 2015 [1 favorite]


qcubed: "I hate online abusers, but the concern over "death threats" in particular always strikes me as overstated.

... this concern over how overstated or not a death threat from a multitude of unfamiliar sources maybe strikes me as completely misplaced.
"

Not all death threats!

Also - those complaining that Twitter is filtering too much. You know what? Let twitter roll it out - it's THEIR platform after all. If people don't like it, they'll leave and Twitter might make some changes. If people don't mind, then what hurts anyone?

The genius of this solution is that it provides a real cost to a user, not just some superficial "ban" (that they can get around with a simple new account). Not that there won't be people figuring out how to game this (and what with losers like 8chan/GGers, you can be rest assured they have enough time on their hands (when they're not racing Brianna Wu with their mom's cars and crying over it - or, as mentioned above - SWATting people...) they'll be devoting time to faking their IP addresses and shit. But it still introduces a delay mechanism and a cost sink for the abusers. Sadly, it might still not be enough, that's my concern.
posted by symbioid at 2:46 PM on April 23, 2015


symbioid: Well...

There was This incident .
"

I'm not saying this in support of spitbull's overall point, but that incident turned out to be done by a "performance artist comedian" (i.e. troll) pretending to be a wacko, and the accident itself was a normal (well, normal if you count street racing itself as "normal") accident, with the Briana Wu thing tagged on afterwards as part of the "comedy". That doesn't excuse it, but it makes it an example of someone using a fake death threat as "comedy/performance art", not an actual declaration of intent to kill someone.

And before people jump on top of me for dismissing the issue or the like, let me repeat, again, "That doesn't excuse it". I'm just talking about whether it was a real death threat or a fake death threat, not about whether it was as bad or less bad or more bad than a real death threat.
posted by Bugbread at 3:24 PM on April 23, 2015 [3 favorites]


I agree - truth is what matters. If he wasn't actually part of gamergate, then that must be told so we don't have misinformation - not only is it bad to be factually wrong for ourselves, but it discredits us and our stances if we cling to falsity. So thank you, Bugbread, I'd not heard of that. And I didn't necessarily think that he was making an outright death threat, so much as acting intimidating and unstable to the point where it could have been dangerous.
posted by symbioid at 3:30 PM on April 23, 2015


It's certainly interesting, that link, to find that he's now suffering the threats that he mocked. Unless, of course, he's doing a "comedy"/troll routine from the opposite end. Which would *really* piss me off (not that it's not already piss-offable enough as it is). The irony is that the fact it was him joking about the the threats is now pissing off the gamergaters AND their victims.
posted by symbioid at 3:36 PM on April 23, 2015


FWIW, if you don't want people to think you're minimizing death threats, you might consider not saying things like "the concern over "death threats" in particular always strikes me as overstated."

Yeah, totally. Also, death threats are harmful in themselves, even if no murder actually happens. When someone sends a death threat, the effect of the threat alone is to terrorize and silence the target (and, by extension, anyone who might dare to speak up like the target did).

Twitter isn't making this response because of isolated tweets from a couple randos. This is all happening in the context of online hate groups going after women. The threats are part of sustained, coordinated, months-long campaigns of harassment and intimidation that also involve doxxing, graphic and repeated death/rape threats online and by phone/mail, hacking attempts against financial and medical accounts, phoning in fake crisis reports to trick SWAT into breaking down doors guns drawn, DDOS attacks to extort employers into a firing, and so on.

Calling the part of these campaigns that manifests on Twitter "rhetorical bluster" is a category error. This isn't some sticks-and-stones playground mudslinging. We're talking about terrorizing people out of the public sphere, out of their jobs, out of their sense of safety and personal well-being. Downplaying the situation gives cover and, consequently, tangible aid to the harassers.

that incident turned out to be done by a "performance artist comedian" (i.e. troll) pretending to be a wacko

Claiming it was "just a joke" is the go-to move of bigots who get public censure for their bigotry. It's gonna take a lot more than the dude's say-so to transmogrify his stunt from harassment to comedy, and speaking personally, I am way past the point of giving a fuck about the rationalizations people give for why their shitty harassment of women is justified by "really" being art, comedy, trolling, or whatever. The effect is to harass women, and that effect isn't retroactively magicked away by some transparently self-serving post-hoc exegesis.
posted by amery at 5:26 PM on April 23, 2015 [5 favorites]


Amery, I don't know who or what you're arguing with. As far as I can tell, we're all on the same page here. I don't even see "Jace Connors" himself as saying "No, it wasn't harassment, it was a joke" or "No, it wasn't misogyny, it was art" or the like. The only issue in that case being discussed here is whether or not it was a death threat made with the intent to actually kill, and the only disclaimer has been against the intent to kill. I haven't seen any disclaimers made by anyone saying it was justified or not really harassment or the like.
posted by Bugbread at 6:02 PM on April 23, 2015


In other words, saying "I didn't do that as a misogynistic attempt to kill someone, I did it to misogynistically harass them and laugh at them (and their enemies)" is not the same as "it wasn't misogynistic, it wasn't harassment, and it wasn't a real death threat, it was just a joke/performance art".
posted by Bugbread at 6:07 PM on April 23, 2015


That doesn't excuse it, but it makes it an example of someone using a fake death threat as "comedy/performance art", not an actual declaration of intent to kill someone.

Even if we take the misogynist serial harrasser at his word, there is no difference to the person being threatened, because the target is not able to discern intent. The effect - terror and fear - is the same.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 6:14 PM on April 23, 2015 [4 favorites]


His thoughts were red thoughts: "Even if we take the misogynist serial harrasser at his word, there is no difference to the person being threatened"

Has anyone said otherwise?
posted by Bugbread at 6:20 PM on April 23, 2015


I am not minimizing death threats.

Saying that you aren't doing something that you are actively doing doesn't negate it. If I was taking a shit on your porch and you came out and asked what I was doing and I said "I am not shitting on your porch", it would not magically clean your porch.
posted by NoraReed at 6:25 PM on April 23, 2015 [2 favorites]


"This is why I believe threats of violence are actual violence."

… but that's not violence. That's a threat of harassment, which you can reasonably call harassment.

"FWIW, if you don't want people to think you're minimizing death threats, you might consider not saying things like "the concern over "death threats" in particular always strikes me as overstated.""

I think it depends where you come in from. The homophobe pizza shop and mechanic have both claimed death threats caused them to close their business; the Prop. 8 folks claim that death threats is why they shouldn't have to reveal donors. I think all of those folks, and many like them, are disingenuous to the extreme — I don't take their claims of death threats seriously at all, especially NOM's fairly transparent attempts to prevent any disapprobation from befalling the few loons who still write checks to them. On the other hand, you have repeated threats of violence used as a misogynistic tool to frighten and harass women out of public participation. I don't think that very many of those threats are legitimate in the sense of actually likely to result in further action from the threatener, but they are a pretty well-documented cost for women who publicly engage on the internet. So sometimes the concern over death threats seems overstated to me, sometimes it seems like something that doesn't get enough attention, with the latter being more true of Twitter.
posted by klangklangston at 6:54 PM on April 23, 2015


NoraReed: "Saying that you aren't doing something that you are actively doing doesn't negate it."

And saying someone is doing something they aren't doesn't mean that they magically are.

Don't get me wrong, Spitball's first comment totally came across as minimizing death threats. Like, my eyes bugged out. But the followups have made it fairly clear (to me) that what he's talking about is this:

Death threats suck.
There are two types of death threats: 1) Real threats, and 2) Harassment threats
Threat category (1) is something that does harm by killing or physically harming a person. Knowing about these threats reduces their harm, by allowing the victim to defend themselves (police, friends, fleeing home, buying mace, whatever).
Threat category (2) is something that does its harm by terrifying a person. Knowing about these threats increases their harm.
This new Twitter policy is focused on category (2). Some people have said it is better to know about threats than to not know about them, so this new Twitter approach would increase harm and is therefore a bad idea. Spitbull is saying that category (1) is overstated, when almost all threats are category (2), meaning that this new Twitter approach would decrease harm and is therefore a good idea.

Yeah, that totally didn't come across in his first comment, but later comments have clarified it.
posted by Bugbread at 7:06 PM on April 23, 2015 [1 favorite]


(And, just for super duper clarification: I'm not agreeing or disagreeing with spitbull or anyone else in this thread about the breakdown of category (1) versus category (2). I've got superabsolutely zero idea what the ratio is.)
posted by Bugbread at 7:21 PM on April 23, 2015


"This is why I believe threats of violence are actual violence."

… but that's not violence. That's a threat of harassment, which you can reasonably call harassment.


It might interest you to know that srboisvert's view is shared by both the UN and the WHO.
posted by solotoro at 4:05 AM on April 24, 2015 [1 favorite]


spitbull: "Leaving aside actual terrorists who planned to kill anyway, is there any documented history of people acting to carry out death threats made on Twitter?"

Considering the high rate of domestic violence leading to murder I'd be really surprised if twitter threat followed by violence/murder isn't a regular occurrence. So common as to not warrant special call out.
posted by Mitheral at 5:16 PM on April 24, 2015


Why would you Tweet a threat to a person you live with instead of just turning to them and threatening them? Is that a Millennial thing?
posted by Bugbread at 7:40 PM on April 24, 2015


"It might interest you to know that srboisvert's view is shared by both the UN and the WHO."

No, I think you should read the comments over again. Someone threatened to report him to Homeland Security for comments he made on a basketball forum. To classify that as violence, even under the overbroad definitions described in those two documents (intentionally overbroad so as to include structuralized violence, which is itself a political redefinition based on effects rather than the conventional definition of "violence").

If you want to define the threat of being reported to Homeland Security for basketball comments as violence, what distinguishes "violence" from "harm"? It's the same problem with defining "force" so broadly as to include any coercive mechanism, right down to called third strikes in rec league softball.
posted by klangklangston at 9:36 PM on April 24, 2015


Pretty sure srboisvert wasn't saying that what he experienced was violence, just that it had enough of a lasting pyschic impact - even that little thing, which was not a death threat - that it made him reconsider his opinions on threats of violence. I certainly didn't see any equivalence drawn between the incidents on the basketball forum and threats of violence, merely that that the experience of one informed an opinion on the other.
posted by Dysk at 2:39 AM on April 25, 2015


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