After nine years, Twitter users will finally be able to mute specific conversations on the site, as well as filter out all tweets with a particular word or phrase from their notifications.
The much requested features are being rolled out today, according to the company. Muting conversations serves two obvious purposes: users who have a tweet go viral will no longer have to deal with thousands of replies from strangers, while users stuck in an interminable conversation between people they don’t know will be able to silently drop out of the discussion.
A broader mute filter serves some clear general uses as well. Users will now be able to mute the names of popular TV shows, for instance, or the teams playing in a match they intend to watch later in the day, from showing up in their notifications, although the mute will not affect a user’s main timeline. “This is a feature we’ve heard many of you ask for, and we’re going to keep listening to make it better and more comprehensive over time,” says Twitter in a blogpost.
But the features are also part of a wider push by Twitter to fight back against allegations that the company is not interested in dealing with the problem of harassment on its platform. Alongside the new muting options, Twitter has also improved the options users have for reporting hate speech, and it says it has improved its internal tools and training to more effectively deal with the content which is reported.
“Our hateful conduct policy prohibits specific conduct that targets people on the basis of race, ethnicity, national origin, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, religious affiliation, age, disability, or disease. Today we’re giving you a more direct way to report this type of conduct for yourself, or for others, whenever you see it happening,” the company said. “This will improve our ability to process these reports, which helps reduce the burden on the person experiencing the abuse.”
Twitter says the amount of abuse, bullying, and harassment seen across the internet has risen sharply over the past few years,. It said. “These behaviours inhibit people from participating on Twitter, or anywhere. Abusive conduct removes the chance to see and share all perspectives around an issue, which we believe is critical to moving us all forward. In the worst cases, this type of conduct threatens human dignity, which we should all stand together to protect.”
It has previously been suggested that Twitter’s abuse problem cost the company its chance to find a buyer. While both Disney and Salesforce were reportedly examining the option to buy the social network, neither company eventually did, and Bloomberg and CNBC reported that both considered the harassment problem on the site to be a breaking point.
The outcome of the US election may create new issues for Twitter with questions over fake news being shared and over far right posters using the service for abuse. Donald Trump is to take Steve Bannon, the executive chairman of far-right news website Breitbart, to the White House as chief strategist. In July this year Twitter enforced its anti-hate speech rules against an editor on Breitbart, first removing his verified status and then deleting his account after he led a hate campaign against Leslie Jones, an actor in the latest Ghostbusters movie.
Two days after the US election, Twitter’s co-founder and part-time chief executive, Jack Dorsey, tweeted his pledge to always emphasise that the US was founded on the truth that “all people are created equal”.