How Twitter is fighting trolls while balancing freedom of speech

Twitter's general counsel said in a Washington Post editorial: "Open discussion doesn't mean much if some people are afraid to take part."

(Image via CNET)

Twitter's general counsel took to the Washington Post to criticize her company for needing to "do a better job" at combating abuse, while protecting free speech.

In the editorial published Thursday, Vijaya Gadde said the microblogging service has failed in recent years to balance keeping its users safe from abuse, while ensuring even those with beliefs and opinions "we ourselves vehemently disagree with" also have their voices heard.

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"Certain types of abuse on our platform have gone unchecked because our policies and product have not appropriately recognized the scope and extent of harm inflicted by abusive behavior," Gadde wrote.

Gadde's comments land after the company faced considerable controversy in how it handled recent high-profile incidents, particularly involving female gamers. Chief executive Dick Costolo said earlier this year the company "sucked" at dealing with abuse and trolls on the site. He personally took responsibility for failing to do more, a leaked memo said.

To that end, Gadde said the company is "changing" its approach to the problem.

"In addition to improving users' ability to control their own Twitter experiences, in recent months we have invested heavily in tools and enforcement solutions that enable us to better detect, act on and limit the reach of abusive content," she said.

That includes adding a so-called quality filter for certain accounts, allowing verified users to block out content they may not want to see.

Also, Twitter said it has tripled the size of its safety team, which Gadde said has allowed the company to respond to five-times as many complaints, while reducing that turnaround to a "fraction" of what it was a few months ago.

The company's policies are also changing, which it says will help protect more vulnerable users. Twitter has reclassified the posting of non-consensual intimate images as "abuse." The company is also banning indirect threats of violence.

"It is not our role to be any sort of arbiter of global speech," said Gadde. "However, we will take a more active role in ensuring that differences of opinion do not cross the line into harassment. We are under no illusion that there is a single solution to ensure this outcome, nor that we will never make mistakes."