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How to shut out the haters on Twittter

Image: vicky leta/mashable

If Twitter has one major headache that never seems to go away, it’s trolls.

But things might now be starting to look up. The company, once content to do almost nothing to address harassment on its platform, has taken a new approach in recent months with a string of updates meant to crack down on abuse and hate.

Just how effective those steps have been, though, is up for debate. Twitter says that, by many measures, things are improving. Last week, the company said it’s “taking action on” 10 times more abusive accounts, compared with the same time last year. Even so, harassment persists, users complain and get frustrated, and high profile users leave the platform.

This is problematic for many reasons — and not just because of the emotional toll harassment and bullying takes on people. When public figures, celebrities, and even ordinary users abandon the platform because of harassment “that’s a form of chilling speech,” says Stephen Balkam, founder of the Family Online Safety Institute, an organization that’s worked with Twitter to develop policies via its Trust and Safety Council.

And while Twitter will likely never be free of trolls and harassers, there are ways to minimize their impact.

How (and when) to report

Twitter hasn’t always made it easy to understand what it does and doesn’t consider harassment. Partly because it’s been inconsistent in enforcing its own policies over the years, and partly because of the vague nature of its policies in the first pace. So if you’re a little confused about what is and isn’t okay — you’re not alone.

You can read Twitter’s full rules and terms of service here, but there are a few main types of harassing behavior that Twitter says it “may consider” when deciding whether or not to suspend or ban an account.

  • accounts whose “primary purpose” is harassment

  • threatening behavior

  • behavior that incites others to harass

  • users who harass others from multiple accounts

That’s a fairly open-ended list, and it leaves quite a bit up to the interpretation of Twitter’s many reviewers, so it’s not surprising that Twitter hasn’t always been consistent on these points.(Twitter’s rules prohibit many other types of behavior too, like violent threats, hate speech, and spam.)

The company still largely relies on its users to hold each other accountable, though, so the best bet for harassers to actually get…

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