If Twitter has one major headache that never seems to go away, it’s trolls.
But things might now be starting to look up. The company, once content to do almost nothing to address harassment on its platform, has taken a new approach in recent months with a string of updates meant to crack down on abuse and hate.
Just how effective those steps have been, though, is up for debate. Twitter says that, by many measures, things are improving. Last week, the company said it’s “taking action on” 10 times more abusive accounts, compared with the same time last year. Even so, harassment persists, users complain and get frustrated, and high profile users leave the platform.
This is problematic for many reasons and not just because of the emotional toll harassment and bullying takes on people. When public figures, celebrities, and even ordinary users abandon the platform because of harassment “that’s a form of chilling speech,” says Stephen Balkam, founder of the Family Online Safety Institute, an organization that’s worked with Twitter to develop policies via its Trust and Safety Council.
And while Twitter will likely never be free of trolls and harassers, there are ways to minimize their impact.
How (and when) to report
Twitter hasn’t always made it easy to understand what it does and doesn’t consider harassment. Partly because it’s been inconsistent in enforcing its own policies over the years, and partly because of the vague nature of its policies in the first pace. So if you’re a little confused about what is and isn’t okay you’re not alone.
You can read Twitter’s full rules and terms of service here, but there are a few main types of harassing behavior that Twitter says it “may consider” when deciding whether or not to suspend or ban an account.
accounts whose “primary purpose” is harassment
behavior that incites others to harass
users who harass others from multiple accounts
That’s a fairly open-ended list, and it leaves quite a bit up to the interpretation of Twitter’s many reviewers, so it’s not surprising that Twitter hasn’t always been consistent on these points.(Twitter’s rules prohibit many other types of behavior too, like violent threats, hate speech, and spam.)
The company still largely relies on its users to hold each other accountable, though, so the best bet for harassers to actually get dealt with is for another to user report them.
Twitter provides a few different ways of reporting a tweet. You can report directly from your timeline by clicking into the drop-down menu and selecting “report tweet,” or you can make a report via this link.
If you want to report an account that you’ve blocked, or one that’s blocked you, the process is a bit different. You need to navigate to the account’s profile page and select “report” from the dropdown menu.
You can also report a direct message by hovering over the message (on twitter.com) or by tapping and holding the message (on Twitter’s iOS and Android app).
Importantly, Twitter will send a confirmation to you after you make a report, though it says it may take as long as 24 hours to do so. If it does end up “taking action on” an account you report, you will get a followup (both in the app and via email) letting you know.
Blocking: What you need to know
Blocking is one of Twitter’s more powerful tools for dealing with harassers and people you don’t want to see on the platform. Blocking a user prevents their tweets from appearing anywhere on your timeline, notifications, or search results.
And while users aren’t notified when somebody blocks them, they are able to tell if they’ve been blocked when looking at another user’s profile.
Besides blocking individuals one by one you can block accounts en masse using Twitter’s tool that allows you to import an entire list of accounts you want to block all at once. This could be particularly useful if you’re setting up a new account and don’t want to manually block accounts one by one.
Mute the trolls
While blocking is good for rooting out known harassers, Twitter’s mute feature can help ensure you don’t see disturbing content in the first place.
You can mute a specific account, which prevents that account’s tweets from appearing in your timeline or notifications (if it’s an account you don’t follow). If you do follow an account that you mute, replies and mentions will show up in your notifications. Muting doesn’t prevent accounts from sending DMs, regardless of whether you follow them or not.
There are instructions for muting accounts from Twitter’s apps and website here.
In addition, Twitter also offers advanced muting controls, which lets you specify words, phrases, hashtags, and even emoji that you want to filter out of your timeline and notifications. Words and phrases you mute will still appear in search results, though.
Twitter has detailed instructions for adding specific words and phrases to your mute list for each of its platforms here.
Note that when you use the mute feature, Twitter defaults to muting that account or phrase indefinitely. You can, however, opt to mute for a dedicated period of time (which, by the way, is also a helpful way to avoid spoilers).
Filter your notifications
Likewise, the company offers a suite of “advanced filters” that allows you to mute notifications from certain types of accounts, like those that don’t have a default profile photo, recently-created accounts, and those that don’t have a confirmed email address or phone number associated with the account.
Twitter also offers a broader “quality filter” for notifications that weeds out alerts the company thinks are likely to be “low quality,” like spam and duplicate tweets.
While all this may not be enough to address every single troll you encounter on Twitter, these steps should help you take back some control of your account.