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Private quote tweets are the latest way trolls are targeting people for harassment

Women and other marginalized groups say they are disproportionately targeted.


Claire Goforth


Twitter users have recently noticed their tweets increasingly have more quote tweets than they can see. This is because private or locked accounts have quote tweeted it.

Now people are calling on Twitter to crack down on or ban quote tweets by locked accounts. They say the feature is being exploited for coordinated harassment campaigns.

In its early days, Twitter was a social media free-for-all. Over the years, the platform has introduced various features to improve the experience by giving users more control over who can interact with them and how they can do so. Many of these changes, such as being able to limit who can comment on a tweet or untag yourself from a conversation, were at least partly inspired by complaints about trolling and other abuse on the platform.

While quote tweets by private accounts may seem innocuous, many believe that trolls are using the feature to target people for trolling and abuse. People report that the hidden quote tweets often precede a sudden influx of hateful comments, leading them to surmise that people hiding behind the anonymity of a private account are sending their followers after them. Many say that members of historically marginalized groups are bearing the brunt of this abuse.

“I would appreciate if @TwitterSupport would stop allowing private quote tweets that cannot be seen by the original tweeter. It’s mostly used to harass & malign people,” @LindsayBoylan tweeted on Sunday. “@TwitterSupport knows this. Nothing is done because the people being harassed & maligned are often women.”

Many people commented on @LindsayBoylan’s tweet to share their concerns about locked accounts using quote tweets for trolling campaigns.

“Twitter knows how these harassment networks work & how some accounts exist only for targeted harassment. They could fix this easily,” @wihorne said.

One suggested that Twitter should prohibit the quote tweet from being seen by those the person quoted has blocked, as well as those who have blocked them. Several said that the person quote-tweeted should at least be able to see what’s being written about their tweet. @koeselitz opined that Twitter could expand the feature that allows people to limit who can reply to include an option to prohibit locked accounts from retweeting them.

Twitter didn’t respond to an inquiry about private quote tweets being potentially used for abuse sent via email Monday morning.

A search for “private quote tweets” on Twitter on Monday returned dozens of complaints, many from people who claim to have been on the receiving end of targeted harassment coordinated by private accounts.

“The fact that there are 24 private quote tweets on this terrifies me,” wrote one of a tweet involving nude pictures.

It is possible to stop people from quote-tweeting you by changing your account settings, but this will also reduce your reach, which can be a disincentive for people who are trying to grow their profile or promote their work.

Cloistering your account so that only people you follow can see and interact with you also alters the experience in a way that may be safer, but less enjoyable. Many users like that Twitter resembles the proverbial marketplace of ideas where anyone can go viral and everyone has the ability to interact with rich, powerful, and famous people on any given day.

Although allowing users to lock their accounts likely makes some people feel freer to exist online and express themselves without being harassed, a growing contingent wants Twitter to introduce additional features regulating or limiting how they interact with others. They feel that locked accounts quote tweeting people who can’t see what they’re saying is basically the Twitter version of talking behind someone’s back.

As one user puts it, “Private quote tweets should be illegal, say it to my fucking (internet) face.”

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