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Twitter looks to new strategy to tackle its troll-bot disease

Twitter wants to improve its health and it is asking your help to do so.

Courtesy : Wikimedia Commons

Twitter has for long been the playing field of the mean and nasty. The trolls on Twitter are worse than the ones that you would find under a bridge in ancient folklore. Only a true braveheart can stand up to their abuse and harassment and emerge sane enough to tell the tale.

Twitter has been criticized widely for allowing fake news, hate speech, bots and other forms of violent content to thrive on its platform in the name of ‘free speech.’ The social media site was also accused of allowing bots to meddle in the 2016 Presidential election. You have to draw a line somewhere, but Twitter never drew it clear enough. Well, now they want to.

Twitter did make some effort in the past to reduce hate speech on the site, but this backfired over accusations that many genuine accounts were unfairly taken down on suspicions of being bots or policy violations. Those with conservative political and religious views didn’t warm up to the whole experience of being ‘botted out’.

Now there is a new twist to the tale. Twitter’s CEO Jack Dorsey tweeted that he wants to take a more realistic approach to dealing with the issues plaguing the site. He regretted allowing things to go as far as they did and now, has asked for help to diagnose the health of Twitter.

This concept of diagnosis refers to the use of various indicators to measure how healthy conversations are on the site. Twitter has issued a request for proposal seeking assistance from academics and the public to create an environment where healthy conversations and debates are encouraged.

There are no new measures or policy updates at present, but Twitter appears to be taking a step in the right direction.

This new announcement by Twitter has led to many questions and opinions. While some might suggest that banning abuse entirely and getting rid of bots would be the best solution, it might not be the easiest one yet. How does one curb aggression without affecting critical thinking? How does one deal with propaganda while allowing free expression of ideas? Also, how does one deal with all the above issues without affecting user engagement? That is the tricky part.

Identifying the metrics to measure the health of conversations is just the first step. It is not yet clear whether these metrics will present an accurate enough picture, and if it does, how it will lead to a significant change.

Another question arises on how all this would translate into Twitter’s business plans. User growth and engagement are two critical metrics for social media companies, and the impact of any new measures on these metrics is relevant. There is also the question of ad revenues. Whether profits will trump well-being is yet to be seen.

Like Twitter, Facebook too has been criticized for not tackling false information and abuse on its site well enough. Facebook has attempted to measure its impact on users and take steps to prioritize content from family and friends over public content.

Twitter appears to be treading on the same path. Let’s hope the path leads to a meaningful change.

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