For years now, Twitter has been peppered by criticism for its failure to combat or—some would argue—even fully acknowledge the scale of the racism, sexism, and homophobia on its micro-blogging service. On Monday, the struggling company’s vice-president of engineering, Ed Ho, said that “long overdue” changes to Twitter would be coming that will supposedly help to tackle harassment, with progress promised “in days and hours, not weeks and months.”
Feminists, minority groups, and activists have complained for years that they aren’t afforded due tools and protection from hate speech being spewed on the site, and it’s not unknown for prominent figures to be temporarily or permanently hounded from Twitter by hordes of trolls acting during, for example, the GamerGate controversy, or more recently in support of Donald Trump’s campaign for the US presidency.
After several half-hearted and unsuccessful attempts to allow victims of online abuse to report hate speech, and seemingly with no end in sight to what appears to be a growing problem with neonazi abuse, Twitter says it is finally throwing its weight behind the problem.
But Ho didn’t reveal the full details of Twitter’s plans and admitted that while “some changes will be visible… some will be less so.” However, he did confirm that the firm would “tackle long overdue fixes to mute/block and stopping repeat offenders from creating new accounts.”
Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey—who, as its most public face, has come in for stinging criticism from users upset with the site’s demonstrable lack of action—has also promised “a completely new approach to abuse on Twitter.”
Anecdotally, users have tentatively welcomed this new stance, though it’s unclear how far Twitter will be willing to go to stop the febrile atmosphere of racism and sexism it seems to have caught from 4Chan. While it does sometimes ban professional trolls such as Milo Yiannopoulos from the site for repeated racial antagonism, neo-Nazi Richard Spencer—who bills himself as “the Karl Marx of the Alt Right”—has yet to be banished from Twitter, despite a considerable commitment to inflammatory language of his own.
A recent study carried out by extremism researchers at George Washington University suggested that white nationalists and Nazi sympathisers had multiplied on Twitter—up 600 percent since 2012.