Like many things found on today’s social media platforms, Twitter’s Lists feature was introduced without thinking about the impact it could have on marginalized groups, or how it could otherwise be used for abuse or surveillance if put in the hands of bad actors. Today, Twitter is taking a step to address that problem with the launch of a new reporting feature that specifically addresses the abusive use of Twitter Lists.
The feature is launching first on iOS today, and will come soon to Android and the web, Twitter says.
Similar to reporting an abusive tweet, Twitter users will tap on the three-dot icon next to the List in question, and then choose “Report.” From the next screen, you’ll select “It’s abusive or harmful.” Twitter will also ask for additional information at that point and will send an email confirming receipt of the report, along with other recommendations as to how to manage your Twitter experience.
Twitter Lists have been abused for years, as they became another way to target and harass people — particularly women and other minority groups. They were particularly useful as a way to avoid being banned for abusive tweets, as Twitter took no notice of Lists.
Twitter has been aware of the problem for years, noted CNBC in an exposé that ran over the summer.
Back in 2017, Twitter said it would no longer notify users when they’ve been added to a list — an attempt to cut back on what were very often upsetting notifications. It then reversed the decision after people argued that notifications were how they learned what sort of harmful lists they had been added to in the first place.
Despite Twitter’s understanding of how Lists were abused, there have not been any good tools for getting an abusive list removed from Twitter itself — users could only block the list’s creator.
Twitter has admitted that despite the availability of its reporting tools and the increasing speed with which it handles abuse reports, there’s still too much pressure on people to flag abuse for themselves. The company says it wants to figure out how to be more proactive — today, the majority is not flagged by technology (only 38% is), but by reports from users.
This problem and all the many like it have to do with who has built our social media tools in the first place.
Twitter, like other tech companies, has struggled with a lack of diversity, which means there’s a large lack of understanding about how features could be twisted to be used in ways no one intended. Though Twitter’s diversity metrics have been improving, Twitter as of this spring was 40.2% female, but just 4.5% black, and 3.9% Latinx.
The other issue with Twitter — and social media in general — is that there’s some distance between the abuser and the victim of harassment. The latter is often not seen as a real person, but rather a placeholder meant to absorb someone’s malcontent, outrage or hatred. And thanks to the platform’s anonymity, there are no real-world consequences for bad behavior on Twitter the way there would be if those same hateful things were said in a public place — like in a community setting such as your local church or social group, or in your workplace.
Finally, Twitter’s trend toward pithiness has led to it becoming a place to be sarcastic, cynical and witty-at-others’-expense — a trend that’s driven by a prolific but small crowd of Twitter users. The goal has very much been to “perform” on Twitter, and accumulate likes and retweets along the way.
Twitter says the new feature is rolling out now to iOS.