Saturday, February 21, 2015

Twitter admits it has a problem with abusers and sees no simple, reliable solutions yet; blocking "low follower counts" could backfire

Twitter is drawing heat on how it deals with abuse, particularly online stalkers (mostly of women) and, of course, terror propaganda, and recently, certain kinds of threats (as against airlines).  Vox (with its subsidiary “The Verge”) printed some comments where CEO Dick Costello admitted the company’s deficiencies in some flowery language, link here.  He says “we will kick these people off right and left …. And make sure nobody hears them.”  He admitted that the problems were costing the service legitimate users.

Eva Galperin and Nadia Kayyali write about this at Electronic Frontier Foundation, and suggest that Twitter could developed some more nuanced strategies for letting users block unwanted content (link ).  I think there is some capability now;  many users don’t allow non-followers to see their timelines or profile details (just like Facebook) and some users to reject specific followers.  Celebrities or those with professional accounts, however, usually remain public. 

A problem exists, however, in that some stalkers (or terrorists) will just keep creating different accounts from different servers and new names.  So EFF suggests letting users block new accounts or accounts with low follower counts, among other ideas.
I would be concerned about these proposals because of the “catch-22” that they could create.  They could make “popularity” essential to being heard at all, again.  You’d have to be established in the real world again, just like in pre-social media days (even pre-Internet).  Of course, there are those who think that we are losing the ability to work together in the real world for real causes and real people, because some of us don’t do very well with social hierarchies that demand popularity. 
 I would add that I get a lot of short-term spammy followers who then drop me in a day or two if I don't follow them.  I only follow parties that I am interested in, typically for some commonality that is relatively specific.  I often look at other public feeds without necessarily following them. 
Update: Feb 22

On Sunday, Michelle Goldberg talks about this problem for female writers with feminist messages, "An unbearable burden: Feminist writers are so besieged by online abuse that some have begun to retire", link here. She talks particularly about writers published on xoJane. It seems that some men resent the idea that a female would not allow herself to be "available" to him, and mentality that is said to live on some campuses.  It also lives in undeveloped parts of the world, particularly with radical Islam.
Update: Feb. 23

The "Dummies" books has an advice page on how to detect "spam" followers in Twitter, link here. I see this all the time, a party that looks irrelevant to my content follows me and drops me in about two days, as I don't follow them back.  Some sites generate messages all the time. "Chess Quotes" generates left wing messages about the abusive bourgeois class and some silly but harmless "heterosexual" pictures, but sometime actually sends legitimate news stories, so I left it up! "Healthy Living" generated a lot of aphorisms that actually made sense, but then disappeared.
But the fact that spam-following happens a lot would also denigrate the idea that people should have minimum-follower counts, as that encourages and even rewards spam.

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