Twit­ter scraps block pol­icy

In wave of protest, users claim new pol­icy em­pow­ers online abuse

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - BUSINESS - GERRY SHIH

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

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