In Cyber Safety, The Digital World

Being Safe on Twitter- Part I

The Internet is no angel, and neither is Twitter. While the social media website has provided an excellent means of communication, being a platform that brings you closer to the things you care about, it is no exception to the general hostility woven into online communications. Learn all about being safe on Twitter. 

At the heart of Twitter are small bursts of information called tweets. Each Tweet is 140 characters long. You can also get links, see photos, videos, news stories and participate in conversations — all directly in Tweets. Sounds fantastic, if you’re trying to stay up to date with news, live events, or even follow up with your favorite Hollywood star. But as everything else on the Internet is, it’s no sunshine or rainbows. Harmful, offensive and overall undesirable content can and does exist.

It is not precise or clear how many Twitter users really are, reveals a report by Time magazine. The numbers range from somewhere between 200 million to 350 million Twitter accounts, although not all are active. Recent polls in the United States of America indicate that around 8 per cent of Americans own active Twitter accounts, compared to a 51 per cent of Americans who use the rival social network, Facebook. Extrapolating from this data, there are probably around 20 to 25 million Americans who are active on Twitter; however, when it goes public, as it inevitably will, we will probably have more accurate numbers.

According to a new study, about 15,000 bullying-related tweets are posted every day, meaning more than 100,000 nasty messages suffocate the social network every single week. Researchers from the University of Wisconsin in Madison conducted research aiming at training a computer to analyze Twitter messages using an algorithm created to point out important words or symbols that may indicate bullying. In 2011, during the time of this study, 250 million public tweets were being sent daily. “In machine learning,” says Zhu, one of the researchers, “the algorithm reads each tweet as a short text document, and it goes about analyzing the word usage to find the important words that mark bullying events.” Some of examples of these words were “mean,” “kicked,” “called,” and “suicide, words that might indicate mean or bullying-related content.

So what does Twitter think of inflammatory content that circulates user accounts?

“You understand that by using Twitter, you may be exposed to content that might be offensive, harmful, inaccurate or otherwise inappropriate, or in some cases, postings that have been mislabeled or are otherwise deceptive.” Twitter is not saying, however, that you agree to being bullied.  To the contrary, Twitter expressly forbids bullying and related conduct that is often employed by bullies.

In its terms of service agreement, Twitter states that, to use its platform and services, you must accept all their terms, and those terms make clear that Twitter itself does not want to get involved in disputes between account users. Users are allowed to post content, including potentially inflammatory content, provided they do not violate the Twitter Terms of Service and Rules. Twitter does not screen content and they do not remove potentially offensive content unless such content is a violation of their Terms of Service. Twitter’s “Terms of Service” (TOS) agreement warns that exchanges can become unpleasant, or worse, because Twitter wants to stay out of these problems.  In what concerns these rules, here are the most significant ones that attempt to control tactics that have been employed by bullies and abusive users to harass, annoy and damage targets:

Impersonation: You may not impersonate others through the Twitter service in a manner that does or is intended to mislead, confuse, or deceive others.

Trademark: Twitter reserves the right to reclaim usernames on behalf of businesses or individuals that hold legal claim or trademark on those usernames. Accounts using business names and/or logos to mislead others may be permanently suspended.

Private information: You may not publish or post other people’s private and confidential information, such as credit card numbers, street address or Social Security/National Identity numbers, without their express authorization and permission.

Violence and Threats: You may not publish or post direct, specific threats of violence against others.

Copyright: Twitter will respond to clear and complete notices of alleged copyright infringement. Their copyright procedures are set forth in the Terms of Service.

Unlawful Use: You may not use Twitter’s service for any unlawful purposes or in furtherance of illegal activities. International users agree to comply with all local laws regarding online conduct and acceptable content.

Misuse of Twitter Badges: You may not use badges, such as but not limited to the Promoted or Verified Twitter badge, unless provided by Twitter. Accounts using these badges as part of profile photos, header photos, background images, or in a way that falsely implies affiliation with Twitter may be suspended.

“All Content, whether publicly posted or privately transmitted, is the sole responsibility of the person who originated such Content. We may not monitor or control the Content posted via the Services and, we cannot take responsibility for such Content. Any use or reliance on any Content or materials posted via the Services or obtained by you through the Services is at your own risk.” This is a rather crucial disclaimer that Twitter makes, trying its best to make it clear that it does not and shall not intervene in disputes, and that in case anything occurs that annoys a specific user, it has to have clearly violated the Terms of Service to be worthy of a report or a ticket submitted to the Twitter system. Below is further clarification:

“We do not endorse, support, represent or guarantee the completeness, truthfulness, accuracy, or reliability of any Content or communications posted via the Services or endorse any opinions expressed via the Services. You understand that by using the Services, you may be exposed to Content that might be offensive, harmful, inaccurate or otherwise inappropriate, or in some cases, postings that have been mislabelled or are otherwise deceptive. Under no circumstances will Twitter be liable in any way for any Content, including, but not limited to, any errors or omissions in any Content, or any loss or damage of any kind incurred as a result of the use of any Content posted, emailed, transmitted or otherwise made available via the Services or broadcast elsewhere.”

The rules also state that “Twitter strives to protect its users from abuse. Technical abuse and user abuse is not tolerated and will result in permanent suspension.” While the meaning of “technical abuse” is spelled out, the meaning of “user abuse” is rather vague, but could arguably be said to fall within the standards that are set forth in sections of the Terms of Service material addressing “Safety: Abusive Users”.

Don’t forget to check part II of our guide on Being Safe on Twitter….

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