Are social media sites doing enough to tackle harassment?

Twitter in particular has come under fire for not acting quickly enough to curb abuse.

Are social media sites doing enough to tackle harassment?

When was the last time you noticed some kind of abuse online? It’s likely to have been in the past 24 hours.

Unfortunately, it has become so common that insulting people or brands on social media risks becoming "an established norm", according to digital-security company Norton, which published research earlier this year that examined how women in particular are treated online.

Some believe social media sites are failing to tackle a long-standing problem. During a recent event about online social etiquette at media agency Rocket, Jon Ronson, journalist and author of So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed, said that, despite some "token bannings", Twitter was "doing very little to tackle" abuse.

He continued: "I still feel that Twitter is a place that doesn’t give a shit about what happens on its platform, where I get the sense that Facebook does care." 

Twitter, which is likely to be particularly mindful of its reputation as it is seeking a buyer, rejected such claims. The company said it has been reviewing its policies and is improving tools and enforcement
systems "with the goal of reducing the burden on the person being targeted".

And there have been wider improvements generally, with the Crown Prosecution Service drawing up guidelines about abuse on social media. 

Lisa De Bonis, executive digital director at Havas London, says there are "digital solutions" for "blocking incoming and outgoing material that might put users in danger" but adds that this should be the
responsibility of social sites.

Others say social networks need to respond to abuse more quickly. Nigel Vincent, audience development director at Time Inc UK, says: "It’s the pace of abuse that needs tackling. Most publishers react extremely quickly to anything unlawful or inappropriate on their properties but I would argue that social media platforms appear more reluctant to take action."

Jim Coleman, UK managing director at We Are Social, adds: "If social platforms are to retain their credibility, this issue needs to be put at the top of their agenda. Twitter, in particular, has a recurring issue of trolling and abuse that needs a firmer hand."

One way to deal with the problem is to make better use of artificial-intelligence algorithms, according
to Aivory Gaw, associate planning director at AKQA. "They offer swifter detection, can even catch abuse before it hits comments – eventually creating a more just online space for everyone," she says.


 Katherine Barna
Head of communications, Tumblr

"While we’ve seen great strides, there is room for improvement. Harassment is a complex and multifaceted issue that affects users on and off social media. We’ve been tackling it on three main fronts, including a ‘block’ feature to protect users and enforcement."


 Victoria Fox
Chief executive, Lida

"As Monica Lewinsky said: ‘We live in a world where public humiliation is a commodity and shame is an industry.’ By simply monitoring and excluding cyber bullies, social sites aren’t taking responsibility for providing a safe environment."


 Kirsten Miller
Managing partner, Maxus

"Social sites are now offering user-defined filters to preblock unwanted content but it is too little, too late. Social media is one of the reasons why the mental well-being of teenage girls has worsened. These sites should have zero tolerance for online abuse."


 John Treacy
Executive creative director, Proximity

"Social sites seem confused about what is and isn’t offensive. Pictures of breastfeeding are removed but systematic harassment, whether threats of violence, rape or death, is permitted. Twitter in particular needs to take a drastic stance and start protecting its users."

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