Let me take you back to the year 2006. The Nintendo Wii had just been released, Bush was still president, Italy had won the World Cup and the second Pirates of the Caribbean movie was the highest grossing film of the year. There in amongst Google’s acquisition of YouTube and Daniel Powter’s “Bad Day”, is the newly formed Twitter, waving its flag of lofty ideals and freedom of speech.
11 years later and the darling of the Internet has taken on a new role. No longer the young geek championing rabid communication and the free flow of information. Today Twitter is all grown up.
In February Twitter announced new protocols for minimising the abusive and often vicious behaviour that the platform has become synonymous with. Among their new policies, Twitter has introduced a means of honing in on tweets that include content that is not deemed appropriate. The reach of these tweets is then temporarily limited to display only on the tweeter’s own timeline and the timelines of their followers. This means that unless you are a follower of the offending tweeter, their disrespectful tweet will not appear in your newsfeed, even if it is retweeted. Nor will it pop up in your notifications if you are tagged in said tweet.
This restriction has also been extended to Twitter’s search function. Any accounts that you have blocked or muted will not appear by default in your search results. Of course, if you are determined enough you can still easily find the hidden content in the replies section or on a user’s profiles.
The final addition to Twitter’s new safety measures is the prevention of repeat offenders from creating alternative accounts. Unverified or anonymous accounts will be monitored and Twitter users (read Twitter Trolls) will be permanently banned from the platform should they not uphold to Twitter’s new standards.
But do we really need a big brother looking over our shoulders making sure we behave on social media? Do we really need someone to put us in the naughty corner when we step out of line? Or a censorship system that runs the risk of isolating ourselves from alternative, albeit rudely put, conflicting views?
Well maybe yes.
Many are heralding the new policy changes as long overdue, with everyone from journalists and sports people, to activists, movie stars and even ordinary Joe Soap, having been on the receiving end of a Twitter Troll Tweet.
While Facebook and YouTube’s comment sections are rife with trolls, harassment and derogatory action seem to be exclusively Twitter’s problem, as users hide behind anonymous profiles, rallying to action just for the sake of it.
Just last year, Twitter users, upset that the new Ghostbusters reboot featured an all-female cast, decided to turn one of the film’s co-stars and attack her with an onslaught of racist and sexist threats. The intimidation got so bad that Twitter’s CEO had to step in and ban the attack’s leader from the platform. In fact, a study conducted by the British think tank, Demos, found that one in four women between the ages of 18 to 24 has been stalked or harassed online.
With 317 million active monthly users, there is plenty opportunity for harassment.
But we have to ask, will Twitter’s new measures really be enough to stop the intimidation and persecution, and what price does this exact on our internet freedom?
The year is 2025, Kanye West is running for his second term as President, driverless cars are the norm, and when the social media trolls are not using memes to communicate they are engaging in a barrage of high rhetoric trying to insult each other without breaking the new social media rules. Well, at least that’s if our new Internet guardian has its way.