Since its launch, Twitter has been extremely well-liked the world over – and it’s not difficult to see why. In more ways than one, Twitter simplified communication, and transformed the way people around the world interacted with one another. Its simplicity, ease of access, fast pace and most importantly, its focus on real-time content endeared it to users, giving it a competitive advantage over other social networks of the time. However, although these factors led to Twitter reaching dizzying heights of success, over the past few years, its popularity has been steadily declining – so much so that its ad revenue fell for the first time this month, since going public in November of 2013.
While several factors have led to the social network’s decline, one of the most controversial – and worrying – reasons remains its infamous bullying culture. The internet has made it easy for bullies to harass their victims and get away with it – and Twitter has only, albeit unintentionally, amplified the online bullying culture by the anonymity and reach it offers. Several people have fallen victim to the targeted and persistent vitriol tormenters send their way, one of the most recent cases being that of American actress Leslie Jones, who was the recipient of violent, racist and misogynistic attacks in 2016.
In light of such a troubled reputation with respect to online bullying and harassment, Twitter’s new announcement on Thursday – a “time-out” for trolls – may be the company’s first major step towards curbing this problem. What Twitter is essentially doing is imposing a temporary 12-hour time-out of accounts sending repeated, abusive tweets to other accounts. Several Twitter users were notified that certain features of their accounts were limited in response to abusive content coming from their profiles. This announcement comes on the tails of some other anti-abuse changes the company had rolled out earlier in the month. While many see this as a positive move to keep trolls under check, several users have lashed out at Twitter’s decision, some declaring this a violation of their right to free speech:
What’s in store for the Twitterverse?
While this move is commendable, what implications will it have on Twitter’s current – and future – users? With many threatening to quit the social network for good, there could also be many who decide to come back on account of heightened monitoring of this very abuse that prompted them to leave. On the flip side, how does this move affect those who, instead of bullying, express their opinions about, or initiative or engage in conversation with those in power? A Twitter user who left impassioned tweets to several politicians, including Donald Trump, was among those who were given the temporary time-out. How will Twitter differentiate between harassment and irate banter, the latter of which is a regular fixture of the Twitter universe?
In an increasingly transparent and aware global market, it becomes imperative for brands to take a stand – a neutral stance is no longer appreciated. In a world where their actions – or lack thereof – are picked apart by highly aware and demanding consumers, brands will eventually need to pick up the torch and be agents of change, addressing issues affecting society, its consumers, and the planet.
Although Twitter has taken several measures in the past – like increased blocking and suspending of offending accounts – this time, it seems to be leaving no stone unturned in tackling online harassment. It needs to be seen if they will be successful in their mission, and if that helps in salvaging its image.