Twitter is a troll’s paradise, and it’s always been. Time after time, the company vowed to clean up its act, only to have tens of thousands more “Twitter eggs” show up to harass and abuse users.
This time, it’s different, the company promises. They now want to filter replies by “relevance.” So you’ll have the everyday snarky replies on top, and the “less relevant” replies hidden and collapsed below.
In addition to that, they’ve (once again) said they are going to crack down on users who create multiple accounts to continue trolling users who have blocked them in the past. And they’re going to do a better job filtering trolls and abusive tweets from searches.
As to how the company will track down users who are committed to trolling, they didn’t say. Some of these trolls are pretty sophisticated, especially the ones who work for the Russian government. They obfuscate their IP addresses through tools like Tor. They use throwaway email addresses that are very easy to get (through Yahoo and a host of other anonymized services).
Other than filtering for content, I’m not sure how Twitter can use an algorithm to identify actual trolls, versus Chinese Christian dissidents, for instance. The problem is one of potentially throwing out the baby with the bathwater. Twitter is a powerful tool for oppressed people in dangerous situations. It’s also a powerful tool for “fake news” operations. The key is in discerning the line between the two.
That line swings decidedly liberal for most tech companies. Just look at Facebook’s “trending news” problem as one example. And Twitter’s awful implementation of “verified users” is a case study in doing it wrong. While the Muslim Brotherhood, which has several member groups designated as terrorist organizations by the State Department, got a blue checkmark, Milo Yiannopoulos was banned for trolling a celebrity.
Maybe the answer is simply doing a better job verifying all users. Maybe there’s a place for “anonymous” users if they’re declared up front as “anonymous.” Maybe there’s a place for anonymous tweets if the user chooses to post as an egg. That’s how question-and-answer social media site Quora does it.
Maybe Twitter accounts should be listed by the number of non-anonymous followers they have, instead of including up to 40 percent of the “fake” accounts many popular users have (including @realDonaldTrump who has 27 percent fake). Maybe Twitter can make itself less of a troll’s paradise instead of being the Dutch boy with multiple fingers in the dyke.
But once again, Twitter is going to tweak themselves into making their social media platform less friendly to conservatives, while the trolls continue to find ways around the latest efforts. At least that’s what will happen if they continue doing what hasn’t worked so far.