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Twitter’s fightback against abuse is off to an underwhelming start

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Twitter kicked off its renewed effort to combat abuse and harassment on its site on Wednesday with a new support feature.

However, the update likely won’t stir much excitement among users, neither does it send the right signal to investors that this is a problem Twitter is finally getting around to fixing.

After a flurry of tweets from Twitter execs and the company’s CEO Jack Dorsey promising a quick turnaround in regards to abuse, the platform’s first step lets users report tweets that mention them from accounts that have blocked them.

We heard your feedback. You can now report Tweets that mention you, even if the author has blocked you. Learn more:

— Twitter Safety (@TwitterSafety) February 1, 2017

It’s a frustrating start to a process that was supposed to restore faith in the company. “We’re taking a completely new approach to abuse on Twitter,” Dorsey said in a tweet shared just days ago. “Including having a more open & real-time dialogue about it every step of the way.”

We're taking a completely new approach to abuse on Twitter. Including having a more open & real-time dialogue about it every step of the way

— jack (@jack) January 31, 2017

The Twitter chief’s tweet followed a series of posts from Twitter vice president of engineering Ed Ho, in which he detailed some of the fixes the company has in the works. Twitter claims its initial changes will target the mute and block functions, which allow users to hide another person’s activity from their timeline or restrict specific accounts from contacting them. He added that the site aims to put a stop to repeat offenders creating new accounts.

Ho also said that more changes are coming this week — so, hopefully something more substantial will be introduced any day now.

Making Twitter a safer place is our primary focus and we are now moving with more urgency than ever.

— Ed Ho (@mrdonut) January 31, 2017

Coincidentally, earlier on Wednesday, the company’s former CEO Dick Costolo expressed his regret at not tackling the site’s abuse problem during his close-to-five-year tenure as the company’s head.

“I wish I could turn back the clock and go back to 2010 and stop abuse on the platform by creating a very specific bar for how to behave on the platform … I take responsibility for not taking the bull by the horns,” said Costolo at a tech summit, reports Axios.

Costolo’s thoughts on the matter had previously been leaked when an internal memo he sent to Twitter staff made it online in February 2015. “We suck at dealing with abuse and trolls on the platform and we’ve sucked at it for years,” he wrote in the memo. The then-CEO also said the platform’s inability to fix the issue was costing it users.

Almost two years down the line his former company is still struggling with how best to deal with its harassment conundrum. Its execs, however, sound more inspired than ever, with vice president of product Keith Coleman (who joined the company in December) tweeting: “There’s a lot coming. Can’t wait to roll it out. We’ll be listening and iterating quickly as we go.”

There's a lot coming. Can't wait to roll it out. We'll be listening and iterating quickly as we go.

— Keith Coleman (@kcoleman) January 31, 2017

At the very least, the one positive to take away from Twitter’s renewed commitment to stemming harassment is the transparency on display. Judging from the tweets, its management is keen to bring users on board and learn from their feedback.

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