In Cyber Safety, E Safety Tips and Tricks, Social Media

Being Safe on Twitter- Part II

Being Safe on Twitter

Our Series on Being Safe on Twitter continues…

Regarding child sexual abuse, Twitter says, “We do not tolerate child sexual exploitation on Twitter. When we are made aware of links to images of or content promoting child sexual exploitation they will be removed from the site without further notice and reported to The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (“NCMEC”); we permanently suspend accounts promoting or containing updates with links to child sexual exploitation.”

Being Safe on Twitter: What can you do?

When discussing “Safety: Abusive Users,” Twitter rhetorically asks: “What can you do?” Their response is in bold letters: “Don’t be a bully.” More specifically, the material explains, “You may encounter people on Twitter who you don’t like or who say things that you disagree with or find offensive. Please remain courteous, even if the other people are not.  Retaliation can reinforce bad behaviour and only encourages bullies. Don’t forward or re-Tweet bullying or mean messages. Remember that the things you say can be very hurtful to other people, even if you think it’s a joke. Don’t turn into a bully yourself.”

Abusive behavior encompasses many different situations–for example, having an argument with someone else on Twitter or discovering that someone you’re following is Tweeting things you find very offensive.

Under the “Following Rules and Best Practices” tab, Twitter explicitly states that it does not wish to become “a less-nice place to hang out.” Therefore, it provides safety tips for teachers and parents, as well as teenagers and general users of all ages on protecting themselves and watching out for the content they share via Twitter, through “Help” pages that include tips on how to stay in control, by keeping their account secure, protecting their personal information, protecting their online photos, and considering the context of offensive content. In addition, it suggests tips on how to deal with online relationships, online conflict, abusive behavior, and self-harm and suicide. Twitter instructs users on how to deal with bullies or people whom you would rather not have bothering you, or following your activities, providing advice and recommendations.

  1. Consider the context: Individual Tweets can be confusing when read outside of their intended context. Do you know whole story behind the Tweet?
  2. Think before you Tweet: When you find yourself in a dispute, stop and think about what effect your next Tweet might have. In these moments, ask yourself, “Is this worth it?” or “What do I gain if I continue to engage in this conflict?” While this is much easier said than done, acknowledging harassment by fighting fire with fire can reinforce bad behavior and may encourage the other person to continue their aggressive behavior.
  3. Block and ignore: When you receive unwanted communication from another Twitter user, it is recommend that you block the user and end any communication. Specifically this will prevent that person from following or replying to you. Abusive users often lose interest once they realize that you will not respond.
  4. Know the rules and policies: Twitter only removes profiles that are in violation of the Twitter Rules and Terms of Service.  Please remember that Twitter is a communications platform rather than a content provider, we do not mediate disputes between users.
  5. Set Your Account to be ‘Protected’:  This helps a lot. If you want privacy you can set your account to be protected so that the public can’t view your tweets unless they follow you and you allow them to see your tweets. By protecting your twitter account, you get to choose who is able to view your tweets. Keeping bullies away.
  6. Reporter to @twitter: Twitter takes this very seriously as well. They have a harassment and violent policy page. You can report to twitter when those bullies have gone too far.

Being Safe on Twitter: On blocking and ignoring

“If you are receiving unwanted communications from a bully,” or for that matter anyone who contacts you via Twitter and with whom you do not wish to associate, Twitter recommends “that you block the user and end any communication. Ending communication with bullies [and others] shows them that you are not willing to engage with them, and often they lose interest. It also demonstrates to others that you are not involved in similar behavior and that you are acting against bullying.”

Twitter explains that blocking prevents a person “from following you or replying to you, and can minimize any incentives [for the bully] to persist in their conduct,” and Twitter provides a help page on blocking which instructs users as to how to block other users. Twitter acknowledges “that bullying is a serious issue” and claims that this is the reason that it has “provided all users with the ability to block other users.” There is, however, a problem with Twitter’s solution to bullying:  It does not stop the anonymous or pseudonymous bully from continuing attacks against his or her target via Twitter.

While you can, for example, block @thebully (a fictional Twitter name used as an example) from following you, as Twitter notes in its FAQ, you should know that it will not prevent this person from creating a new account with which to follow and harass you.  Nor does blocking a user such as @iamabully from sending you messages by having someone whom you do not block retweet a mention of you, which will then appear in the “Mentions” section of your Twitter account.  Indeed, we understand that these are standard ploys and tactics by Twitter bullies and abusers who seek to continue to harass their targets, even after they have been blocked.

Being Safe on Twitter: Protected Twitter Accounts

In addition, there is another tool that is available to shield your account: A protected account. But using such an account greatly restricts your ability to serendipitously encounter or discover other users with similar interests on Twitter. And that is a significant sacrifice, as Twitter followers tend to follow others with like interests and beliefs. A protected account, however, restricts followers to only those you approve.

To create a protected account on Twitter, you must alter the setting for your account, where you are given the option of choosing a “Public” or a “Protected” account.  If you check “Protected,” then anyone who wishes to follow you will have to request your consent to do so; your tweets can only be viewed by your approved followers, who cannot retweet you; and your protected tweets will not appear in a Twitter search.  You have, in effect, created a private and closed network of followers.

But even in this protected (and restricting) status, the clever bully can continue to harass, for even with a protected account you will still receive “Mentions” when @YourTwitterName is included by others.  It takes very little effort by the bully to enlist others to pass on such material, for sadly, there are Twitter users who encourage bullying.  Such users may even support bullies by retweeting and encouraging them, even when they don’t directly bully themselves. (These facilitators may not understand that should their bully engage in criminal conduct, they too could become criminally liable. Or, if the bully is named in a civil lawsuit, they could be named as well.)

Being Safe on Twitter: Account privacy

As Justia columnist and former counsel to the president John Dean writes, “Twitter will NOT tell you what they know about a person who is bullying or harassing you.  This information is protected by Twitter’s Privacy Policy.  Indeed, many bullies turn on their targets, and claim that they are actually the victims. As I mentioned in Part One, bullies are very clever and good at pointing the figure at others to escape responsibility.

Twitter account privacy is not, however, ironclad. Twitter users agree, under the TOS, that there are circumstances under which Twitter can release to others what it knows about you, under the following rather vague clause: “Law and Harm: We may preserve or disclose your information if we believe that it is reasonably necessary to comply with a law, regulation or legal request; to protect the safety of any person; to address fraud, security or technical issues; or to protect Twitter’s rights or property.”

Suffice it to say; as Twitter sees it, its willingness to assist is necessarily limited.  Thus, users may need to look to other alternatives.”

Being Safe on Twitter: Reporting Abusers

Nonetheless, Twitter does provide a means to report abusive behavior by submitting a Support ticket, where you can report such misconduct as the posting of your private information, the stealing of your Tweets, the posting of offensive content, the sending to you of abusive messages or the making of violent threats.  (They also have advisory material for law enforcement, should you need to call the police to protect yourself.)

Reporting the situation to Twitter may succeed in getting our hypothetical bullying user @iamabully suspended from Twitter, but if @thebully is hell bent on harassing you, he or she will open another Twitter account, and may return to harass you with new vigour, or do so via Mentions.  Frankly, I do not believe that anyone should expect Twitter to resolve his or her problem with a bully.  If law enforcement becomes involved, Twitter will be responsive to them.  But with potentially millions of disputes between its users, Twitter cannot practicably become involved in most situations of bullying or other abusive behaviour.

Some believe that, unfortunately, Twitter’s abuse policy is pretty lacking. Their Terms of Service do not directly address abuse, but the official Twitter rules have a specific section for harassment and violent threats. What the organization needs is a designated @abuse account, and ideally a checks-and-balances system for registration.

“Because Twitter’s recommendations and remedies are woefully incomplete for dealing with someone who is hell-bent on being a bully or a persistently and consistently overly aggressive pest, you will likely have to go outside Twitter to resolve the problem. Increasing numbers of attorneys and private investigators are dealing with cyber bullying, and learning how to effectively deal with this anti-social behaviour.”

Enjoy our guide on Being Safe on Twitter and don’t forget to check Being Safe on Twitter Part I.

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