Science & Tech

Twitter to Limit Visibility of Tweets from Bad Actors

Jack Dorsey, CEO and co-founder of Twitter speaks at the Consensus 2018 blockchain technology conference in New York. City, New York, May 16, 2018. (Mike Segar/Reuters)

Twitter announced Tuesday that it will begin automatically limiting the visibility of tweets from users who try to game its system or target others. Tweeting at many accounts you do not follow, how often you are blocked by other users, whether your account is linked to others that misbehave, and whether you launch multiple accounts from only one IP address will all factor into whether the platform hides your tweets.

The change is the latest step in the company’s plan, announced in March, to improve the “health” of the platform. It will not affect accounts that violate the Twitter’s content policies, which the company says it plans to continue dealing with separately.

“A lot of our past action has been content-based, and we have been shifting more and more toward conduct and behaviors on the system,” CEO Jack Dorsey said Monday at the company’s San Francisco headquarters. “Directionally, it does point to probably our biggest impact change. This is a step, but we can see this going quite far.”

The new program will affect accounts in all languages since it is based on their activity, not their content, Twitter said. “It’s a model built into the network,” Dorsey said of the latest fix.

However, “we have to be constantly ten steps ahead,” Dorsey cautioned. “Because even a system like this, a new model, people will figure out how to game it, take advantage of it.”

Twitter has taken some of the same heat that forced Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg to testify before Congress last month about security breaches that compromised users’ personal information. The platform hosts scores of trolls, fake accounts, harassers, and scammers that spread misinformation, target the vulnerable, and attempt to steal users’ identities. It spent much of the past year apologizing for technical mistakes and for giving a voice to unsavory entities.

Liberals have been upset at the platform’s relationship with RT, the Russian state-owned television network, during the last U.S. presidential election. RT, which U.S. intelligence called “the Kremlin’s principal international propaganda outlet,” bought 2 percent of Twitter’s election advertising during the 2016 cycle, but turned down a larger offer from the platform to purchase up to 15 percent of such advertising for $3 million. Twitter last year said it regretted its association with RT and banned the network’s accounts from advertising.

Conservatives, meanwhile, have blamed the platform for silencing their views. An ad from Republican representative Marsha Blackburn that mentioned accusations that Planned Parenthood profits from the sale of fetal body parts was censored, prompting backlash from the congresswoman and her supporters.

Twitter also came under fire for verifying the account of a white nationalist and Charlottesville organizer, after which it tried to reform the verification process.

Dorsey admitted that Twitter is still figuring out how to improve its platform for users, saying the company “can do a much better job at giving people tools to choose more health, for however we end up measuring that and defining that, which is still being worked on.”

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