Twitter finally moves to ban serial harassers

The company is making one big change and two minor ones to curb online abuse.

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Every few months, it seems like Twitter execs swear that the company will do a better job at shutting down abusive trolls. And yet, hate and harassment continue to plague the platform, making it impossible for some high-profile users to remain active. This week, Twitter is making three changes to ramp up its efforts, and they might actually make a huge difference.

First up: Twitter will now identify repeat offenders—people whose accounts have been permanently banned—and will keep them from creating new accounts. Trolls who churn through accounts to terrorize others will no longer be able to do so. This is major.

Twitter is also building a “safe search” tool that won’t show potentially offensive tweets, or tweets from accounts you’ve muted or blocked, in your search results anymore.

And in a few weeks, Twitter will start rolling out a feature that collapses “potentially abusive or low-quality” replies, so when you click on a tweet to view its replies, those tweets won't appear. You’ll still be able to find them if you want to by selecting "show less relevant replies" at the bottom of the tweet page, but they won't be in your face at first look.

“In the days and weeks ahead, we will continue to roll out product changes—some changes will be visible and some less so—and will update you on progress every step of the way,” the company said in a Tuesday blog post. “With every change, we’ll learn, iterate, and continue to move at this speed until we’ve made a significant impact that people can feel.”

Why this matters: Twitter has a real quality control problem. “Why I’m leaving Twitter” tweetstorms have become the new “why I’m leaving New York” essays. While the company has always dealt with hate speech (and taken a largely hands-off approach), the lead-up to the U.S. presidential election last year intensified focus on the platform and what Twitter planned to do to make it better.

The company hasn’t done nothing to curb the abuse that runs rampant on the platform—in November, Twitter rolled out three tools also aimed at making it harder for trolls to troll. But none of these changes seem to be making a big difference, as they don’t get to the root of the problem: the harassers themselves.

The move to permanently ban repeat offenders would go a long way toward making Twitter a better place. The company didn’t say exactly how it would implement that plan.

Update: This story has been updated with clarification about how collapsed replies will work.

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