Trolls thrive on Twitter—but a new update may hit 'em where it hurts.
The social network deployed previously announced features Thursday that give users more control over the notifications they receive. Bottomline, you can disable notifications from people who don't haven't confirmed their identity on Twitter, meaning anonymous trolls can't spew their wretched swamp juice all over your @ replies.
The update is just for Android and Web for now, but it's a pretty big deal. Twitter has been rightly dragged through the mud for failing to meaningfully address its harassment crisis. Lindy West, a well-known feminist writer who has frequently discussed online abuse, put it well in a column for The Guardian last month:
... the breaking point for me wasn’t the trolls themselves (if I have learned anything from the dark side of Twitter, it is how to feel nothing when a frog calls you a cunt) – it was the global repercussions of Twitter’s refusal to stop them.
On 29 December, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey tweeted: "What’s the most important thing you want to see Twitter improve or create in 2017?" One user responded: "Comprehensive plan for getting rid of the Nazis."
"We’ve been working on our policies and controls," Dorsey replied. "What’s the next most critical thing?" Oh, what’s our second-highest priority after Nazis? I’d say No 2 is also Nazis. And No 3. In fact, you can just go ahead and slide "Nazis" into the top 100 spots. Get back to me when your website isn’t a roiling rat-king of Nazis. Nazis are bad, you see?
Indeed they are. For a certain period last year, my own Twitter notifications became a hate-pit of anti-Semitic memes crudely depicting former colleagues being gassed by members of Trump's family in SS garb simply because they'd written honest reports about the GOP candidate.
Almost invariably, the users tweeting the abuse were anonymous "eggs"—shorthand for people who haven't switched their Twitter avatars away from the default bird ovum.
All this to say: The new tools certainly would've come in handy then, and it's a head-scratcher that it's taken Twitter so long to enable them.
To enable them, go to your Notifications pane, tap settings and then hit "advanced filters." You can tell Twitter to automatically mute any of the following:
Accounts you don't follow
People who don't have a profile picture
People who haven't confirmed their e-mail
People who haven't confirmed their phone numbers
That last one may be particularly effective. While setting up a phony e-mail address takes all of 30 seconds, changing your phone number is much trickier. Thus, troll accounts—which are frequently reported and banned—are less likely to have a confirmed phone number, making this a pretty effective strategy for curbing harassment.
Of course, the downside is that limiting which people can reach you diminishes the overall viability of Twitter as a global social network. But that's a small price to pay if it means less Nazi memes, natch.