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Twitter Adds New Ways to Block, Report Abusive and Racist Trolls

Twitter is finally taking more aggressive steps to address one of its biggest pain points — introducing new tools to curb hateful and abusive attacks on the service — although it remains to be seen if the efforts will help the social-media player jump-start growth in its user base.

Over the past few years, the “amount of abuse, bullying, and harassment we’ve seen across the Internet has risen sharply over the past few years,” Twitter said in a blog post Tuesday. “Because Twitter happens in public and in real-time, we’ve had some challenges keeping up with and curbing abusive conduct.”

Now Twitter says it has moved to thwart trolls in three ways: It’s letting users “mute” notifications based on keywords, phrases, and entire conversations; it is making it easier to report abusive users by specifically flagging hateful conduct; and the company says it has retrained its support team to identify hateful conduct on Twitter.

However, Twitter said, it doesn’t expect the steps will “suddenly remove abusive conduct” from the service. “No single action by us would do that. Instead we commit to rapidly improving Twitter based on everything we observe and learn,” the company said.

The steps come after Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey this summer acknowledged that the company’s efforts in cracking down on hateful and abusive attacks on the social service haven’t gone far enough. “No one deserves to be the target of abuse on Twitter,” he said on the company’s quarterly call in July. “We haven’t been good enough at ensuring that’s the case, and we need to do better.”

Twitter’s troll problem hasn’t just hurt user growth: It was a factor in Disney’s decision last month to abandon talks to acquire the company, because the Mouse House was concerned its family-friendly brand would be tarnished, according to a Bloomberg report.

For Twitter, one of the highest-profile examples of abusive behavior occurred earlier this year, when actress Leslie Jones (of “Saturday Night Live” and “Ghostbusters”) was targeted with numerous racist comments on Twitter — prompting her to leave the service. Twitter subsequently banned conservative columnist Milo Yiannopoulos and other accounts over the attacks, after which Jones resumed tweeting.

Twitter has previously provided the “mute” feature, which lets users filter out tweets from specific accounts. Now, Twitter users will be able to screen out notifications for undesirable tweets based on keywords, phrases, and conversations; the company said it will roll the feature out to all users over the next few days.

In addition, Twitter said it is giving users a more direct way to report hateful conduct — not only for tweets directed at their own accounts, but for any posts on the service. That will help “reduce the burden on the person experiencing the abuse, and helps to strengthen a culture of collective support on Twitter,” the company said.

The company also said it has retrained all support teams on its hate-speech policies, including hosting special sessions on “cultural and historical contextualization of hateful conduct.” Twitter’s terms of use prohibit posts that target people on the basis of race, ethnicity, national origin, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, religious affiliation, age, disability, or disease.

“We honor our role in protecting your right to speak freely, and our collective responsibility to human dignity,” Twitter said in its blog post Tuesday.

Making Twitter a safer place should help boost its number of active users and increase engagement on the service. Its user growth has remained stuck in low gear, especially compared with gains by Facebook: Twitter tallied 317 million monthly active users worldwide for the third quarter of 2016, up only 3% year-over-year.

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