What You Need To Know About Twitter's Latest Policy Changes

Photo: Courtesy Twitter.
In the wake of #Gamergate, Twitter's come under fire for how it handles (or fails to handle) trolls, harassment, and abuse. As one of Twitter's executives explained, the social media platform is trying to prevent abuse while still promoting free speech. Today, the company followed up an accidentally controversial direct-messaging change with a measure to partially combat harassment: a new language filter that screens for abusive language, along with greater repercussions for threatening behavior.

Yesterday, Twitter added an option that allows for a DMing free-for-all: You can DM anyone you follow, regardless of whether they follow you back, and you can DM anyone who follows you, whether you follow them or not. The feature is opt-in by default, so to enable this, head to Twitter's settings, go to Privacy and Security, and at the bottom of the page, check "Receive Direct Messages from any follower.” Twitter is also making direct messaging more prominent (perhaps in an effort to curb those embarrassing accidental tweets to which even its CFO has fallen prey) with a Direct Message button on profile pages in its Android and iOS apps. Twitter says, "We hope these changes help you connect more easily — and directly — on Twitter with the people, causes, and businesses you care about most."

This change in DM functionality is primarily designed for companies and brands. Now, if you have a personal toilet-paper problem you want to share with Charmin, for example, you don't have to share it as a public reply. And, if you publicly contact United Airlines over yet another delayed flight, those fine folks can choose to message you privately with a couple of drink vouchers, rather than sharing that publicly with the company's nearly 650,000 followers.

This DM change caused massive outcry yesterday as many people mistook the update to be opt-out — forcing all users to unwittingly accept DMs from anyone whether they like it or not — rather than opt-in. The forced ability to DM with anyone would have almost no benefits for the average Twitter user and, as Gizmodo pointed out, would be a huge boon to spammers. Currently, you can quickly check if that weird @ reply is from a spam bot with a quick scroll of the Twitter feed. Move that to DM, and you can't tell if that cryptic message was just for you, or if it was sent to 200 other people, too. And, for celebrities, already there are accounts misconstruing how this feature works, asking for follows in exchange for a chance to DM with stars like Harry Styles and Theo Horan. "If they haven't opted out of the feature, you can DM your favorite stars yourself!"

Being opt-out, perhaps more importantly, would have opened a huge window to trolls and abusers, who could take their creepy, caustic messages completely out of the public eye.

Luckily, Twitter is finally doing more to take care of those abusive messages. Twitter announced today that for the first time, every user’s notifications will be pre-screened to prevent abusive messages from ever reaching them. And, tweets messaged from a recently registered account that use language similar to flagged messages will not show up in your mentions column, The Guardian reports. Twitter won't delete these filtered tweets, but the targeted user will not see them. Indirect threats of violence are now banned from the platform as well (a change in language that encompasses a broader and more accurate selection of abusive tweets), and users who violate this will see their accounts temporarily suspended. It's not a wide, sweeping move that will eliminate trolls from Twitter — frankly, that would be near-impossible to implement — and it only applies to public messages at the moment (so opting into public DMing means that yes, anyone can DM you anything). But, it's a solid step in the right direction, as long as Twitter actually enforces these policies.  

Twitter still has a lot of work to do regarding platform-wide user privacy and harassment controls. In the meantime, at least Twitter is doing a good job minimizing the chances of finding an accidental dick pic in your feed.
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