Twitter scraps block policy
In wave of protest, users claim new policy empowers online abuse
SAN FRANCISCO: Twitter was forced to scrap a change to its “block” feature this week after attracting a wave of protest from users who said the new policy empowered perpetrators of online abuse.
The humbling reversal on one of the most sensitive policy issues facing the social network came as Twitter encountered user revolt for the first time as a public company.
Under the short- lived change on Thursday, a blocked Twitter user could view or tweet at the person who blocked him or her, but that activity would have been rendered invisible to the victim as if the offending account did not exist.
Under the reinstated policy, users could prevent their harassers from following them or interacting with their tweets. Users are also explicitly notified if they are blocked.
Before it backtracked, Twitter had said on Thursday that the change was meant to protect victims of harassment who wanted to filter out abusive messages but feared that the act of blocking a user would prompt retaliation.
“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,” vice- president of product Michael Sippey wrote in a blog post.
Chief executive Dick Costolo initially sought to address the mounting criticism by saying on Twitter that the new features were widely requested by victims of abuse.
But many were not convinced. Within hours, the service was flooded with angry users, including many who did not understand the nuances of the new policy, and hundreds had signed an online petition to reverse the change.
“New @twitter block policy is like a home security system that instead of keeping people out puts a blindfold on YOU when they come in,” said user @edcasey.
“‘Just ignore them & they’ll stop’ is a dangerous thing to say to bullied kids & a dangerous thing to say to stalked/ harassed Twitter users,” wrote @ red3blog, another user.
Keeping abuse in check is a key issue for the company, which needs to keep hold of existing users and attract hundreds of millions of new ones to justify the stratospheric valuation that investors have placed on its stock.
Twitter shares have risen 35 percent to $55.33 (R570) in the past two weeks on investor expectations that the company can sustain its growth for years and mature into an internet powerhouse.
The changes were announced on Thursday after the market close.
The company’s swift aboutface similarly drew an outpouring of relief.
“The people have spoken and Twitter listened, thanks,” said user @samar_ismail.
The controversy highlighted Twitter’s dilemma over how it should police the freewheeling service or stamp out abuse.
Twitter said on Thursday that the company’s policies were still evolving and that the block feature remained problematic because some users were fearful that their harassers would be notified when they become blocked.
“Moving forward, we will continue to explore features designed to protect users from abuse and prevent retaliation,” Sippey, the Twitter executive, wrote.
The backlash was a rare event for a company that for the most part has been hailed for championing its 250 million users worldwide. – Reuters