This year, the internet was a political battleground. It spread ideas, launched global protests, and incited important conversation and change. But in 2017, we also had to fight for the rights and freedoms we have on the internet itself. The FCC voted to repeal net neutrality, which affects every American’s ability to access information as they do now. Meanwhile, on social media, awareness grew around how companies monitor, promote, and censor users. In a time of rampant false information and abuse, it’s more important than ever that we know our rights.
Twitter has come under particular scrutiny in recent months. As Wired put it in October, the site has a "toxic content problem;" in the same month, comedian Joe Mande quit the site and likened being on it to “smoking embalming fluid.” By December, there were calls for Twitter’s CEO Jack Dorsey to step down. So what can we learn from this shitstorm of a year online? Here’s seven things that would make Twitter a kinder, safer place to be in 2018.
1. It needs to get tougher on abuse.
Too often, we see people being driven away from Twitter. The daily onslaught of racist and sexist abuse is too mentally exhausting for many. (In the past, celebrities like Leslie Jones, Lily Allen, and Normani from Fifth Harmony have been bullied until they left the platform.) This summer, BuzzFeed published a detailed report on how Twitter fails to protect people who aren’t famous, and doesn’t act adequately on cases that don’t go viral or draw media attention.
In October, Twitter announced its intent to crack down on unwanted sexual advances, non-consensual nudity, and the incitement of violence. The main way the company intends to do this is through new algorithms that will hide controversial content, and new tools to make reporting abuse easier. But fighting harassment is simply easier for people than it is for bots, and Twitter HQ needs more human employees who are dedicated to this cause.
2. Anti-abuse measures shouldn’t be used to silence people.
A worrying trend in 2017 has been for left-wing figures to be reported, en masse, by right-wing trolls and bots, until their accounts are suspended. This is an outright manipulation of measures that are there to protect people from bullying. In 2018, Twitter needs to work out how to ensure that their anti-abuse measures aren’t themselves being abused.
3. Nazis shouldn't get badges of honor.
One of the most baffling aspects of Twitter this year has been not only the continued existence of accounts that are openly white supremacist, but the fact they have been verified with blue ticks. Thankfully, after public outcry, the site began repealing these ticks in November: U.S. fascist Richard Spencer and EDL [English Defense League, a far-right hate group] leader Tommy Robinson have both lost theirs. Twitter apologized for “verifying people who we in no way endorse.” But there are plenty of hate-mongers, like racist U.K. writer Katie Hopkins and U.S. broadcaster Tomi Lahren who still have their blue ticks. Change needs to come faster.
4. There needs to be more transparency about what the rules actually are.
In October, BuzzFeed noted how many times Twitter has recently promised to be more transparent — at this point, it feels like more of a distraction technique than a constructive step forward. Twitter’s standard response to most complaints about their service is a promise that they are “fixing” the issue (as in @jack's tweet above), but the lack of details makes their commitment to issues like harassment and offensive content seem pretty vague. We need better answers, and fast.
5. The spread of false information shouldn’t be so easy.
A study by the Oxford Internet Institute this year found that during the 2016 U.S. election, people used Twitter to share almost as much fake information as real news. For technological and ethical reasons, this is an extremely complex problem for Twitter to face — but one that, so far, it hasn’t offered a good enough response to.
6. All of the above rules should apply to Donald Trump.
7. The hero who deleted Trump’s account on their last day at Twitter HQ should be re-hired.
Because, let’s face it: that person is an unsung American hero.