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Twitter Targets Trolls With New Rules On Abuse

An image from a Twitter video shows how a user would report harassment under a new process announced Tuesday.
An image from a Twitter video shows how a user would report harassment under a new process announced Tuesday.

Saying it wants to build "a safer Twitter," the company is announcing changes to two areas: how it handles harassment and the tools that let users block people who've sent abusive messages. One woman who has experienced such abuse calls the change "a big step up."

Twitter announced the changes in a blog post Tuesday, which reads in part:

"As for the changes to block, the new blocked accounts page — which you can get to from the settings menu on Twitter.com — shows you the accounts you've blocked. ... Additionally, accounts that you've blocked won't be able to view your profile."

Another change will make it easier for abusive and harassing tweets to be reported by both the people they target and by other Twitter users. The company says that at first, some of the changes will be available only to "a small group of users."

The shift comes as welcome news to Brianna Wu, a game developer who has been the target of death threats and other abuse.

In an email exchange with NPR's Laura Sydell, Wu said of Twitter's changes:

"Reporting Tweets was very difficult - I'd have to paste tweets from the web client into their report. It looks like it's built into the Twitter app in a much more streamlined way now.

"I especially like having access to my blocked users. I have to use a third party tool when I block someone by mistake. This seems like a big improvement."

You might recall that Wu was one of several women who were forced to leave their homes out of concern for their safety, as the online incident called "Gamergate" resulted in severe personal attacks and the publication of private data.

In a sign of the enduring virulence of those attacks, Wu has been targeted this week after she tweeted about the death of her dog.

If you haven't been following it, NPR's Nate Rott described Gamergate in September as being "about two key things: ethics in video game journalism, and the role and treatment of women in the video game industry — an industry that has long been dominated by men."

Women who review video games have been a particular target, receiving threats of murder and rape.

As Buzzfeed's Rossalyn Warren reported last week, an Australian reviewer has begun "contacting the mothers of the young men who send her the threats and telling them exactly how their son was spending his time online."

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.
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