Photo via Climate State/Flickr (Public Domain)

How do you make Twitter take harassment seriously? Be an astronaut

One small step back for trolls.

Feb 29, 2020, 11:40 am*

Tech

 

AJ Dellinger

Twitter has long been ridiculed for not doing enough to combat harassment on its service, but Motherboard discovered one way to make sure reports of abuse get taken seriously: be an astronaut.

According to the report, Twitter, along with Google and three law enforcement agencies in two countries, were all part of a case that involved a NASA astronaut enduring months of attacks online in 2013.

The situation started in the fall of 2013, when the astronaut—who was never named to protect his identity—first made contact with a woman on Twitter. After exchanging direct messages and several texts, the woman discovered the astronaut had a girlfriend. According to documents obtained by Motherboard under the Freedom of Information Act, the woman began sending “false and malicious statements that include excessive profane and abusive language.”

The messages were directed at both the astronaut and his girlfriend, eventually coming from multiple accounts, all of which were created by the same woman.

The description of her behavior will sound familiar to Twitter users who have dealt with non-stop harassment and hateful messages. What will seem foreign is Twitter’s vigilance in addressing the issue.

In working with law enforcement, Twitter provided information that helped confirm the identity of the abuser. She was placed on the Department of Homeland Security’s watchlist, and local police visited her home in the United Kingdom to threaten to arrest her if she didn’t leave the astronaut alone.

The action taken, both by Twitter and law enforcement, marked one of the rare instances in which a situation like this was treated seriously. In many cases, Twitter and police alike have dismissed harassment online instead of treating the threats as real. 

Earlier this week, Twitter unveiled its Trust and Safety Council, the latest initiative for addressing abuse on its platform. The group consists of 40 organizations who will aim to help Twitter shape its policy when it comes to abuse and harassment. 

Feminist Frequency is one of the organizations included in the advisory council. The organization’s creator, Anita Sarkeesian, was one of many in the gaming community who endured an onslaught of harassment during Gamergate—much of which was allowed to occur unchecked by Twitter. 

H/T Motherboard | Photo via Climate State/Flickr (Public Domain)

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*First Published: Feb 13, 2016, 2:35 pm