Twitter just wants everyone to be friends

Twitter would appear to be having a go at making its online world a friendlier place to be, by censoring trolls and abusive tweets.

Although the platform is recognised as one of the largest social media outlets worldwide, numerous observers have noted slowing user acquisition rates, as well as lower engagement when compared to competitors such as Facebook. This has translated into what could be deemed as less than successful returns on the advertising front, but Twitter has a plan.

The latest initiative has the apparent aim to convince potential users who might be scared off by the often adversarial nature of the platform, and will focus on three areas; stopping the creation of new abusive accounts, bringing forward safer search results, and collapsing potentially abusive or low-quality Tweets.

“We’re taking steps to identify people who have been permanently suspended and stop them from creating new accounts,” the team said on its blog. “This focuses more effectively on some of the most prevalent and damaging forms of behaviour, particularly accounts that are created only to abuse and harass others.”

While the removal of abusive and trolling users maybe a simple task, enough complaints about one user should indicate this, how the team plan to prevent these users from signing up to another account, under a different alias and email address is unclear. Creating a new email account is hardly a complicated task.

The number of abusive users could in fact be one of the reasons the popularity and reach of Twitter is seemingly declining. Why would users want to put themselves in a position which would potentially leave themselves to insults and potential cyber bullying? It’s a perception which the team will want to shake pretty quickly.

Although it should not be directly linked back to the rise of online abuse, Twitter would appear to already be in decline. According to Marketing Land, the use of hashtags in adverts during the Super Bowl dropped to 30%, down from a high of 57% three years ago. In fact, URLs were actually more popular, featuring in roughly 39% of adverts during the game.

The removal of abusive users is a warranted crusade by the team, but it does open the door for potential problems, namely, what should be considered offensive and who should decide? Interpretation and opinions complicate the matter here, and could lead to several innocent posts being earmarked.

For example, the Editor of regularly makes jokes about the fact your correspondent is Welsh, as well as bringing up the tried and tested stereotypes associated with Wales (there was no need to leek that out – Ed). This does not offend me, the intended recipient of the joke, but what about the more sensitive souls of the world? If they are offended by a Welsh reference, do they have the right to be offended, considering I, the recipient of the joke, is not at all?

Social media puts opinions and thoughts out to the entire world, with no distinction made as to whether they are intended for an individual or group. Does this mean the user now has to make sure tweets are completely vanilla to make sure no-one could possibly be offended? Does this remove the personality from the user? Does the risk of offence or threat of banishment impact the user’s ability to speak freely?

The question of when someone’s right not to be offended trumps another’s to free speech will run indefinitely, but Twitter seems to be erring toward the former. The company is still struggling to find its place in the digital world but in wandering towards a politically correct utopia, its search of justification of its position could remove the initial attractiveness of the platform; a place to share your personal opinion and personality with the world.

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