These are critical times for Twitter. The social media giant, which is 10 years old in March, has amassed 320 million users and a valuation of more than $33bn (£22bn). But it desperately needs to turn back waves of negative headlines and to find ways to engage more deeply with the margins of its audience.
Twitter’s recent history has been beset by stories of trolling and extremism. Celebrity users, the great cheerleading asset for the platform in its fledgling years, have been closing their accounts. Many of them have been women.
As damaging has been the supposed use of the site by Islamist jihadis and their recruiting sergeants. But Twitter is fighting back. Boosted in October by the return of its founder Jack Dorsey, now permanent chief executive, it believes it is winning its war on trolls and clearing its decks of violent extremists.
Speaking to The Independent ahead of the company’s tenth anniversary, Bruce Daisley, head of Twitter in Europe, said: “We have spent longer and put more effort into user safety than any other issue. The measures we’ve taken correlate directly with a reduction in the amount of bad behaviour on the platform.”
The site’s agents have been targeting suspected abusive users by “asking more people” that they identify themselves. “If someone is behaving in a way characteristic of a bad actor, we send them a phone verification,” said Mr Daisley. “That allows us to tell the user that what they do here exists in the real world. It normally acts as a stark reminder. Secondly, it allows us to see whether that user has already got other accounts set up on their phone that have been suspended.”
In the line of fire: When trolls attack
- Iggy Azalea: When paparazzi shots of the Australian rapper prompted critical comments she branded the internet “the ugliest reflection of mankind” and announced that her management team would run her social media accounts. “It is too negative and draining,” she told fans.
- Lena Dunham: The creator and star of Girls called it quits after suffering “verbal abuse”, saying users called for her to be “stoned to death”.
- Sue Perkins: Male Top Gear fans drove the Great British Bake Off presenter off Twitter after she was touted as a favourite to replace Jeremy Clarkson. “My timeline has been full of blokes wishing me dead... This morning, someone suggested they’d like to see me burn to death,” she said in April.
- Mary Beard: In 2013 the Cambridge historian turned the tables on an offensive troll who called her a “filthy old slut” by publicly naming and shaming him.
- Stella Creasy: Peter Nunn was jailed for 18 weeks in 2014 for bombarding the MP for Walthamstow, east London, with offensive messages after she backed a campaign to have Jane Austen’s image on the £10 note.
The other part of the strategy has involved giving users new tools to block trolls and to expose the worst offenders by encouraging people to share their lists of blocked accounts. Mr Daisley said the measures, introduced over the past year, had led to a massive increase in the number of reports and made people feel a lot safer.
In February, Twitter’s former chief executive Dick Costolo admitted in an internal email that the company “sucked” at dealing with trolls. Del Harvey, the executive in charge of trust and safety, promised to give users “as much control as possible” in protecting themselves and to bring in levels of “necessary friction” to deter abusers. In April, Twitter’s general counsel, Vijaya Gadde, wrote in the Washington Post: “Certain types of abuse on our platform have gone unchecked.” The company extended its violent-threats policy to include “threats of violence against others or promot[ing] violence against others”.
The hacking group Anonymous recently claimed to have taken down 20,000 Twitter accounts that were supposedly “pro-Isis”. Many of them transpired to have been merely written in Arabic. Others on the hit-list belonged to Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and media outlets including BBC News. Mr Daisley said that security-related complaints were viewed “really seriously” and that “anything that’s reported to us, we investigate”.
Laura Higgins, of the independent UK Safer Internet Centre, which works with Twitter, said the platform had recently “made huge improvements” by “introducing new reporting routes” and “even trying to block persistent offenders from posting in the first place”.
With 15 million Twitter users, the UK is the social platform’s biggest per-capita market. Mr Daisley, who previously worked for Google’s YouTube, said Twitter and other social media had played an integral role in changing society by championing causes such as gay marriage and welcoming refugees.
“It’s extraordinary that so much progress has been made in the past 10 years,” he said. “It’s hard to dismiss the idea that the internet has played some part in knocking down those barriers.”
He said that “digital poppy” Twitter hashtags such as #JeSuisParis and #YouAintNoMuslimBruv (uttered by a witness at the recent attack at Leytonstone tube station in London) had given the public a new platform for “immensely powerful” displays of “solidarity and coming together” in moments of crisis.
This type of empathy is important because Twitter has never matched the reach and engagement levels of Facebook, while younger audiences have lately been more drawn to other services such as Instagram and Snapchat. If Twitter is to make money for its shareholders, it needs to engage users sufficiently to sell to them.
Gadgets and tech news in pictures
Gadgets and tech news in pictures
1/26 ‘The Drone-ovic’
In time for Wimbledon, Virgin Active is trialling ‘The Drone-ovic’ – a drone that drops tennis balls from above to achieve that perfect serve at its Northwood club tennis courts
CPG Photography Ltd
2/26 Voice assistants are coming for your home
A year from now, Google, Amazon and Apple might be listening in on your living room. And you’ll be glad of it. All three of those companies are working on or have announced voice assistants that sit in people’s houses and talk to them. The boxes – which function as speakers, and look like them too – are meant do everything from asking questions to operating various parts of peoples’ houses
3/26 North Korean Facebook set up and immediately hacked
An imitation of Facebook apparently set up for North Koreans has already been hacked and sent offline, just days after it was discovered. Internet company Dyn Research found the site – hosted in North Korea and created to look almost exactly like Facebook – and discovered that it was accessible for anyone in the world. But days later a college student got access to the site because it had been secured with just a default password
4/26 Bring broken smartphone back to life - as a robot
Do you have an old broken smartphone lying around the house somewhere? Then why not turn it into a robot? That's exactly what YouTuber Mehdi Sadaghdar did in a recent video, after his efforts to bring a destroyed phone back to life disastrously failed. Using the phone's vibrator, a coin battery, a simple switch, a few wires and the bristly part of a toothbrush, he managed to make a simple little toy that can skitter around a tabletop as long as the battery last
5/26 Detachable plane cabin
A Ukrainian inventor has proposed building airliners with detachable passenger cabins that could separate from the rest of the plane and parachute safely to the ground in the event of an emergency
6/26 FA announces it will host the Emirates FA Cup video game tournament
The FA has announced that for the first time ever it will host the inaugural Emirates FA Cup gaming tournament, with video game fans from across the world invited to compete for glory at Wembley Stadium connected by EE. Early rounds will take place in iconic locations in the stadium such as The Royal Box, the changing rooms and the players’ tunnel, with the two finalists set to play the virtual final using Wembley Stadium’s 82 foot screens as they sit in the centre circle. Gamers of varying ability will descend upon Wembley Stadium as the home of football transforms into an epic gaming colosseum set to turn heads and sweat palms in equal measure
The FA via Getty Images
7/26 Oculus Rift release date
Oculus has said that it is about to open pre-orders for its Rift virtual reality headset. Some have claimed that the hardware will be the device that will bring virtual reality into the mainstream. And it will start being available from 6 January 2016, the company has said. The company hasn’t said when the headsets will actually start arriving, or how much they will cost. It isn’t clear whether the company intends to announce more details before pre-orders begin
8/26 iPhone stock apps can be removed by just putting them into special folder
A new trick shows a quick way of getting rid of the stock apps that might be cluttering up your iPhone screen — at least for a while. The iPhone comes with a range of apps that are stuck on the phone, and can't be deleted like others. While some are key to the phone — like the Phone app itself — others like Stocks are less well-regarded. But the new trick shows how you can hide those unused stock apps with just a quick trick using some folders
9/26 CES 2016: Four big things set to be revealed
The CES 2016 gadget show is about to kick off, and nearly the entire technology industry has descended on Las Vegas to try and show off the future. Every year, companies and technologists attempt to show that they have seen what’s coming and that they will be there to offer it. Every year, a lot of people get it wrong. This year’s expectations are as big as ever. Every year, CES unofficially gets a big theme that everything’s supposed to be about — this year that’s virtual reality. There is also future for cars, smart home and wearables
10/26 Terrorists could use drones to attack planes and spread propaganda
A government counter-terrorism adviser has warned that terrorists could use commercially available drones to attack passenger planes. Detective Chief Inspector Colin Smith, a security expert and adviser to the Home Office Centre for Applied Science and Technology, warned that small quadcopter drones could easily be used by terrorists for attacks and propaganda purposes
11/26 Goggle-Eyed Lemurs watch TV as part of their reintroduction to the wild
Port Lympne Reserve in Kent, UK, has installed Sony Bravia 4K TVs into its lemur and langur enclosures to show life-like footage to its primates as part of its ‘Back to the Wild’ programme. The charity will trial TV watching on Sony’s 4K TVs as part of this programme in a bid to make langurs more familiar with the new environment
Mikael Buck / Sony
Uber has added a lift-sharing feature to its app in London, allowing people to share their taxi with a stranger in return for a reduced fair. Users will be given 25 per cent off their journey if they say they will let up to two other passengers share their car. Drivers will then receive a message telling them that they’ll be picking up more than one fare, and can plan their route accordingly. London is the second European country to get the feature, after Paris. It was first launched in San Francisco and now most people who use the app do so with the feature
13/26 Attempt to build world’s biggest Rubik’s cube ends in disaster
An attempt to build the world’s biggest Rubik’s cube ended in disaster when the puzzle exploded as it was turned for the first time. One of the masterminds behind Coren Puzzle, a YouTube channel dedicated to custom puzzles, live-streamed the final assembly of the 22x22 cube. The video was the culmination of seven months of construction, which included a month of deliberation on how to build the mechanism at the centre of the device
14/26 New battery chip could let phones charge in minutes
The maker of a new chip claims that it could reduce the charging times of phones to a few minutes, and could prevent dangerous explosions. The tiny chip could be embedded into batteries of all sizes and monitor how healthy and charged they are. That in turn would mean that the batteries would become much safer and quicker to charge, according to the scientist that developed it. Unhealthy lithium-ion batteries can be at risk of exploding or catching fire, as well as gradually losing their capacity so that they run out more quickly. Those problems may become even more important as people move towards electric cars or other vehicles
15/26 Facebook on iPhone gets new fast-loading Instant Articles
If you've noticed articles on Facebook loading a little quicker recently, that's because the new Instant Articles have been launched to all iPhone users. Instant Articles load up to 10 times quicker than a regular article, and have some enriched features - such as unobtrusive autoplay videos, zoomable high-definition images and interactive maps
16/26 Halo 5 patch
Gamers looking forward to playing Halo 5: Guardians on its release on 27 October 2015 will have to wait to download a 9GB day one patch before the game's multiplayer mode can run properly. Those without the patch won't even be able to play multiplayer at all until it's downloaded, in yet another case of a blockbuster game needing a patch on the day of launch
17/26 New HTC Desire 626 handset launch
HTC has launched its latest Desire 626 handset with the Sense 7 software which automatically detects whether you’re at work, at home or on-the-go and alters its theme to suit your location. This advanced technology intelligently analyses your favourite photos to modify the look and feel of your apps, allowing you to modify the colour scheme and backgrounds – the ultimate in personalisation
18/26 Nasa confirms Mars water discovery
Nasa has announced that it has found evidence of flowing water on Mars. Scientists have long speculated that Recurring Slope Lineae — or dark patches — on Mars were made up of briny water but the new findings prove that those patches are caused by liquid water, which it has established by finding hydrated salts.
19/26 Customers wait in line at the Apple Store in Paris to get their hands on the iPhone 6s
Several hundred camped outside the London store in Covent Garden. The 6s will have new features like a vastly improved camera and a pressure-sensitive “3D Touch” display
20/26 Bloodhound SSC: The most powerful ever made is shown off to the public
The car is displayed at Downing Street, when the team visited David Cameron to demonstrate the project
21/26 Lunar eclipse threatens Nasa technology
Artist's rendering of Nasa's LRO spacecraft, which will have to withstand a rapid drop in temperature during an upcoming lunar eclipse that could lead to it shutting down
22/26 Mobile phone bills could rocket up after Ofcom announced that the fees it charges to phone operators will be trebled
The regulator will now charge far more to phone companies for using the mobile spectrum — and though it says that fee will not be passed on to customers, experts have said that prices are likely to go up
23/26 New iPhone 6s rose gold
Apple has released a bright pink new iPhone 6s — likely the only way that you’ll be able to tell that someone has the new handset. The company released the new phone with much fanfare, but almost all of the changes — a new camera and pressure-sensitive display — were on the inside. The only new noticeable addition to the phone’s look is the very pink rose gold colour, and a tiny “S” on the back. The new handsets will be released on September 25
24/26 iPad Pro
Apple has launched a huge new iPad, which it hopes can bring the tablet to offices and designers. But it unveiled it with an Apple-designed stylus — an idea that was famously mocked by late Apple founder Steve Jobs
25/26 Apple TV
Apple has introduced the new Apple TV
26/26 Apple Pencil
Apple has introduced the new Apple Pencil
Twitter enjoys a high profile in the news media and is loved by journalists; but other users can be overwhelmed by the stream of half a billion daily tweets. So the site this month launched its Moments feature in the UK, working with 18 media production partners to present the best Twitter stories of the day.
Mr Daisley said more would be done to help new users get instant satisfaction by recommending other users that match their interests. “What you will see next year is Twitter as a business taking more responsibility for ensuring that when you come to the site, its pages are filled with the very best content for you,” he said.Reuse content