Twitter reverses blocking policy after public outcry

An emergency meeting of top executives was called, showing just how difficult it is for the service to balance 'free speech' and accountability

Twitter has reversed changes to its user-blocking policies less than twenty four hours after they were introduced following widespread outcry from users.

The new rules were briefly introduced by the micro-blogging service on Friday morning and meant that users could still receive messages from individuals they had blocked, although these interactions would be hidden.

Blocking is used by people to stop abusive commentators interacting with them on the site and many users complained the new policy relegated the block function to a ‘mute’ button, giving abusive users and trolls more visibility on the site than they had previously enjoyed.

The response from many of Twitter’s 250 million users was so acute that the company’s executives were reported to have rushed into an emergency meeting to discuss the policy changes.

“We have decided to revert the change after receiving feedback from many users – we never want to introduce features at the cost of users feeling less safe,” said vice president of policy Michael Sippey in a blog post yesterday. “Any blocks you had previously instituted are still in effect.”

However, Sippey implied that despite the current outcry users can still expect further changes to blocking policies, describing the current system as “not ideal,” and commenting that “some users worry just as much about post-blocking retaliation as they do about pre-blocking abuse.”

Caroline Criado-Perez, a campaigner who faced a storm of rape and murder threats on Twitter after calling for women to be included on banknotes earlier this year, welcomed the micro-blogging site’s reversal, but said, “I’m really pleased Twitter listened to its users because its briefly imposed blocking policy was basically an abusers charter. It shows again how little of a grasp Twitter has on the way its platform can be used for harassing and stalking people.”

Ms Criado-Perez isn’t the only campaigner or high-profile woman to have been on the receiving end of violent misogynist abuse on the site this year. In August the Labour MP Stella Creasy was sent a photograph of a masked man brandishing a knife after she spoke out about the death and rape threats she has received on Twitter, while Independent columnist Grace Dent, Guardian columnist Hadley Freeman and the Catherine Mayer from Time magazine, as well as a number of other women, have all been subject to bomb threats on the site.

These high-profile cases and recent statistics showing there are 2,000 crimes related to online abuse in London alone each year, have seen calls for Twitter to restrict abusive users on its service, but in his post yesterday Mr Sippey implied that despite the current outcry users can still expect further changes to blocking policies.

He described the current system as “not ideal,” and said that “some users worry just as much about post-blocking retaliation as they do about pre-blocking abuse.”

Many campaigners aren’t impressed though. Ms Criado-Perez added: “I must say Twitter’s response has been a bit mealy-mouthed in suggesting it knows best. I’m worried it hasn’t really listened. Twitter isn’t the expert in dealing with harassment and is is being very high-handed and arrogant in this.”

Tim Crook, reader in Media & Communication at Goldsmiths, University of London, said Twitter’s move was a “cynical surrendering of corporate responsibility and failure to protect vulnerable people from offensive and harmful speech.” He added that online abuses should be “be vigorously and enthusiastically policed by criminal intervention”.

The problem is not limited to Twitter either, with Facebook coming under fire this October for allowing an explicit video showing a woman being beheaded on the site. Although such material exists elsewhere online, critics argue that the site's core functionality - sharing content, especially amongst younger users - brings extra responsibility. The video was kept online but given an age warning.

Paul Saffo, a technology forecaster and consulting professor in the School of Engineering at Stanford University said the original change was “well-intentioned but profoundly inept”.

“The bottom line is that when taken with all the other privacy disasters of the last year (NSA included, of course), we are in the early stages of a profound social reinvention of what it means to have privacy.  In the past, much of our privacy was based on the simple difficulty of connecting and watching. Cops couldn’t do an NSA stunt because it was just too hard and too expensive.  Now that snooping/stalking/harassing is easy, inexpensive and instant, as a society we are inevitably rethinking our norms. And companies like Twitter are right on the bleeding edge of that change.”

Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Gadgets & Tech

    Recruitment Genius: Field Engineer

    £15000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company has 30 years of ex...

    Recruitment Genius: Customer Account Manager

    £27000 - £33000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing cloud based I...

    Recruitment Genius: Front End Web Developer - Magento

    £28000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Front End Web Developer is re...

    SThree: IT Recruitment Consultant

    £22500 - £30000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Sthree are looking for experie...

    Day In a Page

    War with Isis: Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria's capital

    War with Isis

    Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria
    Scientists develop mechanical spring-loaded leg brace to improve walking

    A spring in your step?

    Scientists develop mechanical leg brace to help take a load off
    Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock: How London shaped the director's art and obsessions

    Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock

    Ackroyd has devoted his literary career to chronicling the capital and its characters. He tells John Walsh why he chose the master of suspense as his latest subject
    Ryan Reynolds interview: The actor is branching out with Nazi art-theft drama Woman in Gold

    Ryan Reynolds branches out in Woman in Gold

    For every box-office smash in Ryan Reynolds' Hollywood career, there's always been a misconceived let-down. It's time for a rethink and a reboot, the actor tells James Mottram
    Why Robin Williams safeguarded himself against a morbid trend in advertising

    Stars safeguard against morbid advertising

    As film-makers and advertisers make increasing posthumous use of celebrities' images, some stars are finding new ways of ensuring that they rest in peace
    The UK horticulture industry is facing a skills crisis - but Great Dixter aims to change all that

    UK horticulture industry facing skills crisis

    Great Dixter manor house in East Sussex is encouraging people to work in the industry by offering three scholarships a year to students, as well as generous placements
    Hack Circus aims to turn the rule-abiding approach of TED talks on its head

    Hack Circus: Technology, art and learning

    Hack Circus aims to turn the rule-abiding approach of TED talks on its head. Rhodri Marsden meets mistress of ceremonies Leila Johnston
    Sevenoaks is split over much-delayed decision on controversial grammar school annexe

    Sevenoaks split over grammar school annexe

    If Weald of Kent Grammar School is given the go-ahead for an annexe in leafy Sevenoaks, it will be the first selective state school to open in 50 years
    10 best compact cameras

    A look through the lens: 10 best compact cameras

    If your smartphone won’t quite cut it, it’s time to invest in a new portable gadget
    Paul Scholes column: Ross Barkley played well against Italy but he must build on that. His time to step up and seize that England No 10 shirt is now

    Paul Scholes column

    Ross Barkley played well against Italy but he must build on that. His time to step up and seize that England No 10 shirt is now
    Why Michael Carrick is still proving an enigma for England

    Why Carrick is still proving an enigma for England

    Manchester United's talented midfielder has played international football for almost 14 years yet, frustratingly, has won only 32 caps, says Sam Wallace
    Tracey Neville: The netball coach who is just as busy as her brothers, Gary and Phil

    Tracey Neville is just as busy as her brothers, Gary and Phil

    The former player on how she is finding time to coach both Manchester Thunder in the Superleague and England in this year's World Cup
    General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

    The masterminds behind the election

    How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
    Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

    Machine Gun America

    The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
    The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

    The ethics of pet food

    Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?